SINGAPORE — Outsize cargo operator Volga-Dnepr would like to see production of Antonov An-124s resume, but Russia needs to reach an agreement with the Ukraine for this to happen.
Russia wants to manufacture An-124s at the Aviastar factory in Ulyanovsk, southeast of Moscow. But the Ukraine owns the intellectual property to the An-124 design, so Russia must deal with the Ukrainians, according to Colon Miller, Volga-Dnepr’s military operations and key account manager.
Antonov, the original designer of the An-124, is a Ukrainian company.
On the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Military Airlift conference here this week, Miller tells Aviation Week the issue has caught the attention of Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, who is pushing the case for manufacturing An-124s at Aviastar, but so far there has been no breakthrough.
Miller concedes that it will be difficult for Russia and the Ukraine to reach an agreement, especially considering the broader political situation between the two countries. Russia and the Ukraine are involved in a wide range of disputes.
The most recent involves gas. The Ukrainians have been complaining about how much Russia charges them for gas, while the Russians are unhappy that they have to rely on the Ukrainians’ pipelines to reach gas markets in Europe.
Another challenge facing the An-124 program is finding investors.
In an effort to build support for the An-124, Miller says Volga-Dnepr met with U.S. congressional defense authorizers to ascertain what demand there may be in the future from the U.S. armed forces for chartered An-124s. He says that considering the extent of looming U.S. defense cuts, and the fact it means some of the U.S. military’s Lockheed C-5 heavy-lift transporters will be retired, it makes sense to fill that capability gap with some An-124 charters from the private sector.
He also says if Russia and the Ukraine agreed to restart production of the An-124, many U.S. companies such asand would be keen to help modernize the aircraft with, for example, new digital cockpits.
Miller says Volga-Dnepr’s hope is that in 2020 there will be a new modern variant of the An-124.
Miller was responding to a question about what Volga-Dnepr plans to do with its fleet in light of the fact that no new An-124s are being made today and the current fleet is aging.
Volga-Dnepr has 10 An-124s in its own fleet and access to an additional seven through Ruslan International, another company in which Volga-Dnepr and Antonov Airlines are stakeholders. Miller says besides the 17 An-124s controlled by Volga-Dnepr and Ruslan International, there are only five other An-124s in the world. But some of these five are controlled by the Russian air force and date back to the late 1970s, whereas Volga-Dnepr’s aircraft were built between 1982-2005.