Volga-Dnepr Group / Press-center / Media Coverage

Why a western-engined giant AN-124 will be an 'intercontinental phenomenon'


RUSSIAN heavyweight airline Volga- Dnepr and planemaker Antonov hаve hit out at Boeing attempts to rubbish the safety and economic viability of the giant AN-124, writes Nigel Tomkins.

Representatives of the US aircraft company publicly stated that the AN-124 is not safe and unreliab1e, assert the Russians. "We were very disappointed to hear these criticisms. Тhey are not true. These aircraft meet all the international requirements for reliability and safety. We've never been refused permission to fly or carry out any operation," stresses Oleg Bogdanov, deputy genera1 designer at the Antonov Design Bureau.

Тhe market for the specialist outsized air cargo industry is set to grow considerably - probably doubling over the next five years. Boeing, with its С-17 project hardly off the ground, doesn't understand this specific marketplace, the Russians insist. "Instead of explaining the advantages of the С-17, Boeing decided to point out the deficiencies of the AN-124. We were very surprised by that. AN-124 customers have no complaints," he adds.

Operator Volga-Dnepr has massive confidence in the aircraft's future. Alexey Isaikin, chief executive, states: "I am more optimistic than ever before. After 12 years in this market, long-term, stable demand has appeared. Customers - mainly manufacturers - are now thinking differently, more creatively about projects. With the availability of this aircraft there are things they can do now that they didn't even consider before."

Russian confidence in an aircraft type created 20 years ago for military transport operations is such that а future version - the AN-124-З00 -powered by western engines, is expected to create an 'intercontinental phenomenon' carrying up to 150 tonnes of cargo over long distances with crew numbers cut to three or four and operating economics substantially improved.

Тhe AN-124-300 will not only offer improved capacity and range capabilities, it will also be quieter, more fuel efficient, offer improved safety and reliability factors, wil1 have а longer service life and be environmentally more friendly than its predecessors.

"It wil1 be а cargo aircraft for the 21st century,'. enthuses Isaikin. "We believe all 124s, including improved and new versions, wil1 find customers and good markets. There are very solid reasons for the successful development of this type."

The timeframe for the new 124-300's introduction depends on the manufacturing output capacity of the Aviastar factory at Ulyanovsk, birthplace of the aircraft. А business plan is now underway to identify the costs of the project (which will run to mi1lions of US$) and а selection process for suppliers of avionics and engines - including Ro1ls-Royce, Pratt & Whitney and General Electric - is being undertaken. А schedule for the project wi1l be announced once the business plan is complete.

Both Antonov Airlines and venture partner Volga-Dnepr believes there is а need for at least 20 commercially-operated -300s and up to 50 mi1itary versions.

In the interim, Volga-Dnepr is taking delivery next year of the latest addition to its 124 fleet with the first new-generation AN-124-100M. The modified aircraft - which wil1 be the 10th 124 in its fleet - wi11 have an increased payload to 150 tonnes and а maximum take-off weight of 402 tonnes. The company is financing the acquisition with а US$29.9 million loan from International Financia1 Corporation (IFC). The new, upgraded aircraft is expected to extend the life of the type for another 20 years.

The -100М comes equipped with the latest avionics, including Orlan 8.33 KHz-spaced УНР radios, col1ision avoidance system TCAS, reduced vertical separation minimum (RVSM) and enhanced zone navigation and early ground warning systems. "This fleet modernisation programme is а key part of Volga-Dnepr Group's business development strategy and will create additional opportunities for our customers whilst allowing us to maintain our leading position in the international outsized and heavyweight cargo market," says Isaikin.

Air Cargo News, July 11 2003

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