In an effort to expand its product line’s international customer base, Antonov is actively pursuing more Western participation in its An-148 regional jet. While 13 Western vendors contribute to Antonov’s newest design, its heavy dependence on Russian partners has hurt the Ukrainian company’s ability to market the airplane outside its traditional sphere of influence.
“We intend to expand the scope of international cooperation to improve competitiveness of our aircraft,” general designer Dmitry Kiva told AIN. He said the company needs more input from the world’s best suppliers to help the design house develop new members of the family: namely, the An-148-200 stretch, An-148C freighter and An-148VT air lifter.
“We have no question about the market; the demand for the aircraft is certainly present,” Kiva claimed. Of all regional jets now certified, he claimed, the An-148 offers the lowest fuel burn per passenger mile and greatest overhead baggage volume per passenger. Currently, 17 airlines have filed tender requests for 100 An-148s. KrasAir (AirUnion), GTK Rossiya, Polyet, SCAT and Berkut have placed firm orders. Unfortunately, the plants chosen to manufacturer the airplanes–KiGAZ Aviant in Kiev and VASO in Voronezh, Russia–still haven’t produced a deliverable example. Both plants are overloaded with orders and need to renovate to speed production. Aviant has begun work on seven An-148 airframes in Kiev for Kazakhstan’s SCAT airline, which hopes to become the type’s first commercial operator. VASO mated its first fuselage with its wings in June, aiming for first delivery to GTK Rossiya by year-end.
Antonov disassembled one of the two An-148-100 operable prototypes (on which the company flew more than 600 missions during certification trials that lasted from December 2004 to February 2007) to assess the condition of its load-bearing structure. The airplane will undergo assembly again, with two fuselage plugs each adding 5.58 feet in length. Schedules call for the stretched version, known as the An-148-200, to fly next year. Designed to transport 99 passengers 919 nm, the An-148-200 would carry six more rows of seats in the cabin than the 75-passenger An-148-100. Cubana de Aviación will likely become the first buyer.
After certifying the An-148-200, Antonov (Hall 2 Stand C26) plans to certify the An-148T civilian freighter with a side cargo door and cabin cross section of eight feet versus 7.87 feet. Next in line stands the An-148VT ramp air lifter with a 10.17-foot-wide by 8.86-foot-high fuselage cross section. The airplane would carry 21 metric tons of cargo 1,297 nm. The respective increase in maximum takeoff weight from 91,930 pounds (An-148-100B) to about 110,230 pounds requires engines that generate more power than the two Progress D-436-148 turbofans on the passenger airplane. Designers are considering various options, including more powerful D-436T3s, D-27 propfans or their turbojet version, the AI-727.
Antonov is offering the An-148VT to the Indian air force as its prospective next-generation medium airlifter. The Ukrainian company also is talking to Russia’s United Aircraft Manufacturing Corp. (OAK) and India’s Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. (HAL) about using the An-148 platform for development of the Multirole Transport Aircraft (MTA).
“All of the Indian requirements are met by the An-148VT, except for the cross section,” Kiva said. He believes the customer will get “more realistic” with its specification, however, “to bring into harmony the 20-ton [44,100 pound] payload requirement and the airplane’s desired cross section.
“In today’s specification, the respective figures do not match,” he explained. The specification in question calls for a cross section similar to that of the An-70 and Il-76MF, with their respective 103,600-pound and 143,300-pound maximum payloads.
MTA project leader Ilyushin has offered Antonov participation in the all-new Il-214, now being shaped to meet the MTA specification. If Antonov accepts, it would satisfy its role as the preferred supplier of the Indian air force transport command, which already has 110 An-32s. India is considering an additional batch to replace unserviceable examples, and KiGAZ Aviant has yet to complete a dozen airframes it has begun building. The latest An-32 deliveries went to Libya (five in 2006-2007) and Ukraine’s ministry for emergencies (three delivered in 2008 out of five ordered).
Meanwhile, rising fuel prices have made Antonov turboprops more attractive to airlines than regional jets. Last month, Russian fuel supplier TOAP placed firm orders for five An-140-100s and an option for a further 50. Driven by the desire to equip its partner airlines with suitable hardware, the fuel provider explained that the type’s modest fuel consumption drove its choice. Powered by two Klimov/Progress TV3-117VMA-SBM1 turboshaft engines, the An-140-100 can carry up to 52 passengers nearly as efficiently as an ATR 42-500, according to Antonov. TOAP’s commitment follows that of Yakutia Airlines, which flew its only An-140 on a network within Russia’s coldest republic, the diamond-rich Sakha.
Separately, Antonov claims the time is right to resume production of the An-124 Ruslan heavy-lifter. It forecasts a tripling of demand for the Ruslan by 2017. “There is no alternative to our design, nothing else that could serve this market,” Kiva said.
Ukraine and Russia are continuing discussions on the program, but have not yet reached any firm agreement. Preliminary agreements call for completion of two more aircraft at Russia’s Aviastar plant using existing parts stock by 2010, and then laying down an initial series of 15 airframes for Volga-Dnepr and Polyet.
Kiva said the requisite investment into production tools is low, since the plants in Ulianovsk, Kiev and Tashkent have kept existing tools in good condition. At the same time, it makes sense to shift from the An-124-100 to the larger An-124-300, with its capability to transport 246,550 pounds of payload 5,405 nm. The latter needs considerable investment for research and development work, however.
But while Antonov is proposing the An-124-300 model, Ruslan operators insist on the An-124-100M150. The suffix stands for “Modernized,” with a 150-metric ton [330,700-pound] maximum payload. The new model features a life extension from 25 years and 24,000 flight hours to 40 years and 45,000 hours, respectively, as well as an increase in time-between-overhaul from 6,000 to 10,000 flight hours. This year Antonov approved a new schedule for maintenance that extends A-check to 500 flight hours.
The next step in the Ruslan’s development will involve improvements to the crew rest area, a completely “glass” cockpit and four-crew operation (two pilots, plus two technicians supervising cargo and loading/offloading operations). Progress D-18T series 4 engines are ready for production, featuring improved reliability, higher gas dynamic stability and longer service life.