Air Transportation: Antonov Dies In Ukraine

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January 28, 2016: Russia has decided to abandon development of An-70, four-engine turboprop transport that began development in the 1980s in Ukraine when Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union. The An-70 is dead because of the war with Ukraine which led to Russia cancelling its 2012 order for 60 An-70s. These were to be delivered between 2014 and 2020. The canceled An-70s will be replaced by a smaller number of the new Russian Il-76MD-90 transports. Thirty of these have already been delivered and the Russians are satisfied with the latest version of the elderly Il-76. Still the Russian Air Force believes it needs at least another fifty Il-76s to replace the cancelled An-70s and rapidly aging Cold War era Il-76s.

This is a sad end to Antonov, which is now bankrupt and being dissolved. In 2008, after two years of stalling, Russia agreed to put up the needed $300 million to revive the An-70 development program. Since the beginning the An-70 has been pitched as a low cost alternative for nations needing C-130 or A400M type medium military transports. The An-70 is a powerful prop-driven aircraft. While the C-130 can haul 20 tons and the A400M 37 tons, the AN-70 can carry 47 tons (for up to 1,350 kilometers). Carrying 20 tons, the An-70 can travel 7,400 kilometers. The aircraft also excels in one area the Russians were always good at: the ability to operate from unpaved, and short, runways. The Russian-Ukrainian company developing the AN-70 expected to sell lots of them to countries like India and China and others that want the most for their money in a rugged military transport.

Antonov, a Ukrainian company after 1991, kept An-70 development going from the end of the Soviet Union in 1991 until mid-2006 and maintained good relations with the Russian government. But Russia said it wanted to concentrate on further developing its own Il-76 jet transport at the expense of the An-70. The Ukrainians pointed out that there was still a demand for propeller driven transports. Eventually the Ukrainians made their case that the An-70 was needed. Russia placed an order in 2012 that enabled development and plans for mass production to move forward. That ended in late 2014 when Russian turned on Ukraine (for ousting a pro-Russian government) and seized Crimea and attempted to do the same in eastern Ukraine.

Meanwhile in 2012, after several years of starting and stopping negotiations, the Russian Air Force decided to go ahead and buy 39 of the new Il-76MD-90 transports. While similar in appearance to the Il-76, the 76MD-90 is basically a new aircraft, with numerous new structural and electronic components as well as new engines. That was one reason that, during development, it was referred to as the Il-476. The Il-76MD-90 had its first test flights in 2012 and was to enter service in 2014 but that was delayed until late 2015. The Il-76MD-90 can carry up to 60 tons and is about 15 percent more fuel efficient. The Il-76MD-90 is seen as an excellent candidate for export sales.

Russia rolled the first upgraded Il-76 in 2007. New engines and electronics give the Il-76MD-90 eight percent better fuel efficiency and the ability to lift more cargo. Further improvements will increase fuel efficiency another 14 percent. Russia is trying to make the Il-76/Il-76ND-90 a contender in the military air transport market and the new Il-76ND-90 is being showcased to make that happen.

The Il-76 is somewhat similar in capability to the U.S. C-17 but uses older technology, more similar to the retired (in 2006) U.S. C-141. The Russians have also been buying a stretched version of the Il-76 (the Il-76MF). This version first flew in 1995, and has become popular with users of earlier Il-76 models. The Il-76MF had better engines and can carry 50 tons of cargo over 4,000 kilometers. Another popular Il-76 is the tanker version (called the Il-78).

There are far more Il-76's in use than all of America's four engine jet transports (C-5, C-141, C-17) put together. Nearly a thousand 900 Il-76s were manufactured since the 1970s, with over a hundred exported, so far, mainly to Cuba, Iraq, China, India, Libya, and Syria. With few foreign or domestic sales since the 1990s, the Il-76 manufacturer (Chkalov) survived by manufacturing wings and other components for the An-124, An-70, and An-225 transports. In addition, it made replacement parts for the Il-76 and Il-114 aircraft.

The new models of the Il-76 indicate a substantial R&D investment and an effort to make the Il-76 a serious competitor (mainly on price, at about $60 million each) with the C-17 (which costs about four times as much and is able to carry up to 100 tons). What the C-17 is best at is carrying about half that weight, half way around the world, non-stop. The Il-76 has a hard time matching that. The C-17 is also easier to maintain and more reliable. But the fuel-efficient Il-76ND-90 that can be refueled in the air has a price that's tough to beat.

A major customer for the new Il-76s is Russia. All 110 Russian Il-76s have been grounded several times in the past few years because of problems. In one case the engine fell off an Il-76 while it was preparing to takeoff. Now there is a suitable replacement and no competition from Antonov.

 


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