Antonov betting on Western technology

By Bjorn Fehrm

July 14, 2016, ©. Leeham Co, Farnborough Air Show: The company Antonov is world renowned for its rugged transport aircraft. The recent An-124 Ruslan and An-225 Mriya super-heavy transporters are the world’s largest transport aircraft. Both fly daily for the Antonov companies own airline, transporting outsize cargo for companies like Boeing, Airbus, GE, Rolls-Royce and others.

LAJES FIELD, AZORES -- Portuguese and American workers tend to the Antonov An-225 Mriya, or "Dream," April 28 on the flightline at Lajes Field. The "Cossack," as it is known by NATO, landed here to refuel and get service. Currently the world's largest aircraft, the An-225 was designed mainly to transport the Russian space shuttle "Buran" and its components from a service area to a launch site, to Jane's Aircraft Recognition Guide, second edition . It is the only aircraft of its type known to be in existence, according to Jane's. (Photo by Tech. Sgt. Jason Tudor)

The worlds largest aircraft, the heavy air-lifter An-225 Mriya. Source: Antonov.

The air freighter company is what keeps Antonov afloat, for it has been hit hard by the fall of the Soviet Union and Ukraine’s decision to split with the Russian Federation and orient itself to the West. 

Adapted to the state planning system

Antonov has traditionally operated in the Soviet model of a design bureau, which has licensed its designs to contract manufacturers in Russia and Ukraine. In the Soviet model, it was the design center for rugged transporters in competition with the Ilyushin design bureau.  Antonov has been very successful as a design bureau, famous for the An-2, An-12, An-24, An-124 and An-225 aircraft. There are 22,000 Antonov aircraft spread over 50 variants.

This impressive number of Antonov aircraft is of little help to the company today. It does not own the rights to most of these aircraft as the rights have been licensed to the production companies in most cases. It is also these companies that maintain and support their produced aircraft, an important revenue stream for any aircraft manufacturer.

Consequently, Antonov, with its 3,000 engineers, has been dependent on new development projects from the Russian and Ukrainian states. When these dried up because of the Ukrainian-Russian political crisis, things turned bad for Antonov. It was engaged in developing and certifying the advanced An-70 transporter for the Russian and Ukrainian military, an aircraft as flexible and capable as the Airbus A400M. This project is now stopped. The split with Russia when it comes to development and production of Antonov aircraft is complete.

Turning to market economy and seeking Western partners

Antonov has changed a lot from 2015. The company ceased to exist as an independent unit under the Ukrainian Ministry of Economic Development and Trade. It became part of the state giant UkroBoronProm’s (UkroBoronProm gathers over 100 of Ukraine’s important defense and aeronautical industry companies) May 12, 2015. UkroBoronProm was set up by the Ukrainian state to transform its Soviet oriented Defense and Aeronautical industry into Western style market-driven companies.

We met with the President of UkroBoronProm, Roman Romanov, at the Farnborough Air Show, to discuss the way ahead for Antonov. Romanov gave us a comprehensive presentation of the transformation project he is leading. UkroBoronProm is changing the mindset of 80,000 people in more than 100 companies, teaching them that one develops and produces what the market wants, not what some minister, political or military leader thinks is the suitable thing to do. UkroBoronProm has made considerable progress since it started this work in 2010. The total group is now profitable after years of losses and cooperation with Western partners is sought in all fields.

An-32 and -178 becoming Westernized

For Antonov, this means their Soviet era designs An-32 and An-178 are now being Westernized. This involves finding replacements for all Russian Federation-developed and produced parts. This has taken the form of a cooperation with Saudi-Arabia where the An-32 is brought to an An-132 specification, featuring western-built avionics and engines. The Saudi-assembled An-132 will be powered by Pratt & Whitney Canada PW150 turboprop engines and have Honeywell avionics, Liebherr air conditioning and UTC Aerosystems APU.


An-132 with Pratt & Whitney Canada engines and Western systems and avionics. Source: Antonov

A similar transformation is underway with the Embraer KC-390 and C-130 Hercules-sized An-178. From containing 42% Russian made components when it was conceived from the An-158 airliner three years ago, it is now devoid of any Russian dependencies. Cooperative sales and production projects are now actively sought for the An-178 with the first agreement signed with India’s Reliance Defence Ltd. The aim is to replace the Indian-Russian state’s ailing Ilyushin Il-114 project. This project, which started in 2000, will take 19 years to produce the first flying prototype. Many doubt the Indian state wants to wait so long for an aircraft which cannot  be more than the An-178 which has been flying since May 2015. LNC has this short video from the Paris Air Show about the An-178.


An-178 prototype which is flying since May 2015. Source: Antonov

The mainstay of the Antonov Airlines cargo, is transported by the An-124 Ruslan. This, the world’s second largest outsize cargo transport aircraft after the An-225 Mriya (which was only built in one copy), is operated in a joint outsize cargo company “Ruslan International” with Volga-Dnepr Airlines of Russia. A total of 26 of these giants where produced. Ruslan International operates 17 of these. The Ruslans are active over the world and often are called upon to fly the largest GE and Rolls-Royce aircraft engines to places where they are urgently needed.


An-124 Ruslan, the worlds third largest freighter aircraft in MTOW after An-225 and Boeing 747-8F. It takes 10% more cargo than the C-5. Source: Antonov

There are no plans to seek an immediate cooperation to restart production of the An-124. The existing aircraft will be upgraded with Western avionics (FMS, ADS-B etc) to make the operating fleet more efficient. Then the possibilities for producing further aircraft will be explored, should an interested partner be found.

15 Comments on “Antonov betting on Western technology

  1. We have had the AN-225 come through Anchorage AK

    Amazing aircraft.

  2. “An-124 Ruslan, the worlds third largest aircraft in MTOW after An-225 and Boeing 747-8F.”

    Surely you must mean “the world’s third largest *freighter* aircraft in MTOW…” I believe the A380 MTOW is higher than all of those except the An-225.

  3. I understand Antonov essentially did the new wing design for the Chinese version of the Dc-9, the ARJ21. Im not sure partnering with Saudi Arabia on an updated version of the An32 will amount to much, likely to totally rely on Ukrainian brainpower and effort and only saudi money. The An178 could have a strong future if it is priced right and is backed up decent support and spares

  4. There was talk a while back of finishing off the second AN225 hulk, getting that flying. Stalled because it’s going to be a pricey job apparently…

    • It would make sense if the existing AN225 is “overused” ( IMU not the case ) or shows excessive aging/downtime or worst case a crash or similar which would take it completely out of circulation.

      Anyway the Ukraine is much too busy doing the NATO provocation job while succumbing to political strife and overall corruption.

      • “NATO provocation”?

        Gotta love that Putinspeak for being invaded!

        • Ask Cyprus what happens when its a nato member that does the invasion, you can rely on western support…?

          • Ask the people on Grenada or in Panama about their impressions about uncalled for military intervention.

            Krim was a combination of longstanding popular leaning towards Russia and strategic naval interests in the area.
            ( Endangered by a US pushed (Nuland: we’ve spent billions here) government “change”. all a follow up to the Georgia wet firecracker war.

  5. The commercially self-sustained future of Antonov could involve the production and sales of the UltraFreighter, as has been discussed elsewhere before. Some 300 UltraFreighters in the period of the next 20 years are needed to fulfill initiation of Modal Revolution nº 2, totalling a sales value equivalent of twice that number of A380 type assets, a worth-while Business Plan for a successful westernization of Antonov, possibly better to be carried out in cooperation with the Chinese ? The UltraFreighter would render obsolete overnight all existing paxliner-F compromised – ersatz – freighter types as are deplorably produced by Boeing or Airbus, to whom the freighter segment has always been the fifth wheel of the car.

  6. Good job for Antonov!

    Though, if they are looking for more customers, it’s prudent to offer Western engines for An-178.

  7. I my humble view, the robust nature of the Antonovs and the lower capital costs when compared to Airbus, Boeing and Bombardier, makes the products desirable in area such as Africa, India and China.

    The AN-148 and AN-158’s are low cost, competitive 60 to 100 pax jets, as capable as any in that category. I do not agree that any more “Western” tech is required as that spoils the value argument for these planes. The high cost of USD or Euros is a barrier. The existing tech is fine, but as the article rightly states, it has to realign and stabilize the company before customers will feel comfortable to invest.
    All Antonov needs are better MRO options in the areas mentioned to thrive.

    • ‘Western’ tech is needed to enter the ‘Western’ market. An-148/158’s engines are still not certified in EU/USA. Moreover, not so many mechanics out there know how to deal with Ukrainian engines, and not that many spare parts are available either.

      Antonov needs to get profit and the best way is to offer ‘Western’ tech as an option.

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