December 4 - Recent reports in the Russian media which indicated that production is about to resume on the AN-124 freighter aircraft (as reported on this website on December 2nd) have been put into perspective by a statement from Volga-Dnepr.
The airline says that the project to resume serial production of an upgraded new generation of Antonov AN-124 freighter aircraft and its modifications has received a timely boost from Russian President, Dmitry Medvedev, as he joined Alexey Isaikin, president of Volga-Dnepr Group, and other industry and government officials for a tour of the aircraft and the Aviastar aircraft production factory in Ulyanovsk, pictured below. However, no indication of when that resumption might take effect were forthcoming.
After touring one of Volga-Dnepr's AN-124s, Mr Medvedev commented: "There's a market niche for new large cargo transporters." Further, Mr Medvedev stated about potential cooperation with foreign partners.
The worldwide market for ramp aircraft has grown at 3 percent per annum in the past five years, according to Volga-Dnepr. In 2008, the market for AN-124 services was worth over USD1.1 billion compared to USD768 million in 2007. IKAO stated basing on different sources that a market size will grow up to USD3 billion by 2020 and USD7 by 2030. A market study conducted by SH&E consulting company has confirmed the requirement for 70 AN-124 airplanes by 2030, taking into account the growing volumes of extraordinary cargo.
With a fleet of 10 aircraft, Volga-Dnepr is the world's largest operator of AN-124-100 freighters and has earned a share of over 50percent of the global outsize and heavyweight air cargo market. The Group is a founding partner in a consortium that also includes United Aircraft Corporation (OAK) and Antonov Design Bureau that wants to see production of a new, upgraded version of the AN-124 'Ruslan' freighter aircraft as part of the programme to resume serial production of AN-124 family aircraft.
Volga-Dnepr Group has confirmed its commitment to order 20 of the new upgraded AN-124 aircraft in the period from 2011 to 2020 and a further 20 aircraft from 2021 to 2027. The project is hoping to gain further support from the Russian Government in the form of an order for military versions of the freighter to enable the production program to commence.
The Russian Government has been supportive of the project, understanding its importance to the country's economy. As well as securing a leading position in the production of aircraft for the outsize and heavyweight air cargo market, building the new version of the AN-124 will give an important financial boost to some 280 Russian businesses in the science, engineering and economic sectors that will participate in the project.
The upgraded AN-124 will be able to carry up to 150 tons of cargo and its flight range will be increased to 4,000 km at maximum payload (15,000 km at zero payload). The most significant element of the new specification is a significant modernisation of the aircraft's avionics system and improved operating performance.
Russia's Central Aerohydrodynamics Institute (TsAGI) and State Research Institute of Civil Aviation have given the AN-124 a further boost by completing tests and design research aimed at more than doubling the operating life of the AN-124-100 'Ruslan' freighter to 50,000 hours and 45 years.
The two institutes have given final approval to the modifications prepared by the aircraft's designer, Antonov Design Bureau. This moves the project a step closer to the issuing of a supplemental type certificate for the modernized version of the aircraft.
By completing the technical works required - including partial changes to avionics equipment, constructional elements of the aircraft and changes to routine A and B technical checks - the modernised aircraft's design life will be extended to 50,000 hours, 10,000 flights and 45 calendar years compared to the current level of 24,000 hours, 6,000 flights and 25 years.
These changes would enable the AN-124 freighter - the world's largest serially produced transport airplane - to remain in the sky until the late 2030s. The new life figures exceed those of the C-17 and modernised C-5M Super Galaxy military transports of 30,000 and 45,000 hours respectively.
Dennis Gliznoutsa, group commercial director (Charters) of Volga-Dnepr Airlines welcomed the development. He said: "Identifying the work required to extend the life expectancy of the AN-124 freighter is important given the high level of global customer demand for the aircraft. By demonstrating the longevity of the freighter, we expect to secure even more long-term partnership agreements."