Crisis in Kiev can’t ground An-148

 - January 29, 2007, 5:34 AM

Although the political crisis in Ukraine kept Antonov engineers guessing about the timing of the first flight of the 52-seat An-148, the airplane took to the air on December 17 from Kiev’s Svyatoshin Aerodrome. Scheduled for certification early next year, the first aircraft built in the former Soviet Union without direct public funding flew effortlessly over a crowd of onlookers, hungry for some symbol of stability in a country beset by unrest.

“The politics certainly had an influence on the flight schedule,” said Antonov sales and marketing chief Aleksandr Kiva. “No one can be immune to it here now…but we have an obligation to our airline customers [to start the flight-test program].”

Kiva referred to the continuing fight between opposition candidate Victor Yushenko and acting Prime Minister Victor Yanukovich for the Ukrainian presidency. Although Yanukovich was declared the winner of the second round of elections in November, the opposition set up camp in Kiev and other key cities in undeniable numbers and demanded “to repeat the elections without massive cheating.”

Antonov general designer Piotr Balabyev had originally promised to give the go-ahead to fly the airplane in late November, but outside forces conspired against him. The fertile mind behind the An-124 Ruslan and An-225 Mria–the world’s largest freighters and only Soviet-era aircraft to find a firm niche in the international market–the 74-year-old engineer also flexes considerable political muscle, never missing an opportunity to win the trust of the power elite and secure their support.

In other developments, on November 28 Kharkov State Aircraft Manufacturing Company (KSAMC) delivered a new An-140-100 turboprop to Azerbaijan’s state aviation agency, AZAL, marking the first international delivery of the type. Three more are due to arrive this year, for operations with Azerbaijan Airways.

Another Asian carrier, Tadjikustan’s TOJ Airlines, placed an order with KSAMC for a single An-140, due for delivery in September. Another breakthrough came in Iran, where, on November 29, Safiran Airlines started regular passenger services from Tehran to the southwestern township of Gorgan with a locally assembled IrAn-140, following completion of type trials on cargo and passenger charters.