China has acquired the rights and technical data to the An-225 Mriya airlifter from Ukraine’s Antonov State Company and plans to restart production of the world’s largest aircraft. Chinese state media reported that the agreement with China Airspace Industry Group will see the transfer of the technical drawings and property rights for the An-225 and its Progress D-18T turbofan engines currently held by Antonov.
The six-engine An-225 was originally designed to carry the Soviet space program’s Energia rocket boosters and the Buran space shuttle. But it lost the role after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union. The sole operational An-225 is today used as a charter aircraft by Antonov Airlines to carry outsized loads, being able to lift more than 250,000 kg (550,000 pounds) of cargo internally.
Antonov’s deal with China is the culmination of negotiations that started in May for the takeover of an unfinished An-225 airframe in Ukraine, with reports at the time estimating the cost to complete the aircraft to be $300 million. China Airspace Industry Group plans to build the An-225 in Luzhou, Sichuan Province and Guigang in Guangxi, and has signed agreements with the respective governments to that effect. The group’s logistics director Pan Xiaojun said the An-225 is expected to be completed in the first half of 2019.
It is not known if there are plans for China to build more An-225s after completing the unfinished airframe, although it would make little sense to set up the production facilities at considerable expense to complete just one aircraft.
China Hi-tech Industry Development Zone Association chairman Zhang Jingan noted that although some aspects of the An-225 design needed updating due to its relative age, doing so would enhance the capabilities of China's aviation manufacturing industry. These upgrades will presumably take the form of a glass cockpit as well as modern navigation systems.
Antonov had previously attempted to complete the second aircraft to meet global demand for the An-225’s cargo capacity; however work was abandoned in 2009 with the aircraft reportedly 60to 70 percent complete.