On June 16 at the Paris Airshow, Ukraine’s Antonov aviation consortium signed an agreement for the joint design of a new aircraft and the construction of a series-production plant in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA). Antonov officials describe the aircraft as based on the An-132 twin-turboprop. It is designed to replace several previous-generation models: the An-32, of which more than 360 different variants have been built; the An-26, of which more than 1,400 models have been manufactured; the Aeritalia G-222, of which 46 types are in service; and the 120 CASA C-235s that are in operation in different regions of the world.
Antonov (Stand 2210) will establish the facility at the King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST). Equipment suppliers include several other major international aerospace firms, such as Pratt & Whitney Canada, General Electric, Honeywell, Liebherr and Hamilton Sundstrand.
The plant will be “equipped with the most modern aviation machinery and production standards to implement the newest possible aviation technologies,” said an Antonov representative.
The five partners in the program are: Taqnia (KSA), the Ukrainian Scientific Research Institute of Aviation Technology, the Antonov Company, Altis Holding (Ukraine) and Broetje-Automation (Germany).
Taqnia Aeronautics Company is a subsidiary of the Saudi Company for Technical Development and Investment (Taqnia), which is owned by the public investment fund of the Council of Economic Affairs and Development.
According to arrangements spelled out in the agreement, Antonov will lead the design team for the An-132 configuration, while being “consultants” in setting up the plant and producing the first prototype aircraft. The plan calls for this prototype to be assembled and ready to fly by the second quarter of 2016.
The An-132 project itself is a “vehicle to achieve several objectives,” said Antonov. One is to transfer aviation industry technology to KSA, and another is to qualify youthful and talented Saudi engineers to enter the aviation industry. The Saudi staff will be trained by Ukrainian experts, and the manpower in the joint venture company will be limited to Saudi and Ukrainian nationals only.
Qualified Saudi engineers and technicians will be recruited from local universities and institutes, with the concept that there will be a cachet or prestige that will attract this talent by being able to say that they are involved in the first real full-scale project for Saudi Arabia’s aviation industry.
Collectively KACST, Taqnia Aeronautics Company and Antonov will upgrade the current An-32 design’s payload, range and takeoff performance capabilities. There will also be a new cockpit with state-of-the-art avionics that will enable the flight crew to accomplish more difficult tasks.
This is only one of several major changes in the design that will transform the An-32, a Soviet-era aircraft that has largely only been operated by traditional users of Russian and Ukrainian-made aircraft, into the An-132. The idea is that the An-132 would appeal to almost any nation, including those that have only procured western aircraft in the past.
Antonov states that the An-32 was selected as the baseline to build on and create this new design after the consortium conducted a study into the requirements of both the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the international market for a light transport aircraft that could be configured for military and civil applications. The study was focused on an upgrade rather than a “clean sheet” design, to save time.
Aside from the adaptability of the An-32–once modernized–to carry out all of these missions, An-32 aircraft in use around the world have already demonstrated the ability to carry out some of these missions in several countries. Most importantly, the An-32 or a new aircraft based on its design can operate on unpaved runways or in other harsh environments where many other transport aircraft could not.
Antonov explained to AIN at September’s Arms and Security Defense Expo in Kiev that the goals for the program are entirely realistic and were developed after careful analysis. “In the near-term there is a worldwide market for about 1,000 of this type of aircraft,” said an Antonov representative. “Therefore, we think we can capture about 300 of those orders. The KSA requirement alone is for 80 aircraft or more, and then additional numbers can be built at the KACST site for third countries.”
The attractiveness of the design for the nations most likely to need an aircraft of this type, stated Antonov, “is that, first of all, the aircraft will have Western engines and other Western-produced on-board systems, so they can be serviced almost anywhere in the world.” Also, despite using a set or largely Western subsystems, the An-132 aircraft will still have the characteristic that many Soviet-era designs were known for, most notably being suitable for the climatic conditions that are hot, desert-like and with performance still at near-peak efficiency.
Antonov engineers also like to point out that there is a major advantage of the An-132 in comparison with its closest competitors, such as the CASA C-295 and Alenia C-27J. The An-132 will be capable of flying with one inoperative engine at altitudes over 4,000 meters (13,132 feet), which is considerably higher than the “one-engine only” operational ceilings of both the C-295 and C-27J. This means that there is a far greater level of safety in mountainous terrain, an important factor in the markets where this aircraft is most likely to be competing.