Russian Volga-Dnepr, the largest civil operator of the Antonov An-124-100 Ruslan in the world, specializing in the transportation of extra large and bulk cargo, is exploring the possibility of replacing the type in the future. Volga-Dnepr currently operates 12 units of the An-124-100, which completed its first take-off in December 1982. So far, Antonov has produced a total of 55 of this type.
The Russian cargo carrier, said they are working on upgrading An-124s to maintain the airworthiness of the specimens they operate and to meet the latest international standards. As of 2013 Volga-Dnepr focused on resuming production of a fully updated version of the An-124 Ruslan transport aircraft. The company’s specialists conducted research on the prospects of the trucking market and came to the conclusion that the option of upgrading the An-124 aircraft proposed by the Russian Ministry of Defense would not meet a future request for the cost-effectiveness and dimensionality of transported goods.
According to Antonov Design Bureau, in the case of the resumption of production of the An-124, Russia instructs the release of the modification of the An-124-200, which is a relatively modest modernization, including strengthening the fuselage to increase the carrying capacity from the current 120 tons to 150 tons and updating the avionics crew reduction from six people on the An-124-100 (two pilots, a navigator, a radio operator and a flight engineer) to three or four. The head of the design bureau Dmitry Kiva said that the An-124-200 “is an aircraft that meets the requirements” of the Russian Ministry of Defense.
At the same time, with regard to the An-124, the Russian Ministry of Defense believes that it is more necessary to modernize more than 20 aircraft in service, which have not taken to the air for many years. In 2008, the Ministry of Defense signed a contract with Ulyanovsk Aviastar-SP OJSC for the repair of 10 aircraft by 2015. It is planned to sign a separate contract for the repair of ten more units until 2020. The first An-124 repaired in Ulyanovsk returned to service 21 September 2010 after more than ten years he spent on earth. Three aircraft should be modernized in 2013.
Taking into account all the prospects for the development of the An-124 production revival program, Volga-Dnepr company, together with Antonova specialists, developed an alternative project. The Russian airline Volga-Dnepr planned as of 2013 to revive the production of Ukrainian An-124 Ruslan aircraft in Germany. The company previously opened a hangar in Germany to repair these aircraft, in which, in addition to repairs, it also wants to organize piece production.
“After ten years of futile attempts to do something in Russia, we want to enlist the support of the state that will be interested in this project,” said Volga-Dnepr President Alexei Isaykin. According to him, the airline itself needs 60 aircraft with a capacity like An-124 until 2030. Other airlines may place an order for another 200 aircraft. The carrier was considering the start of unit production of liners in Leipzig from 2017-2018. In this case, the fuselage and chassis of the new project will be taken from the An-124, electronics from suppliers of the Boeing 747, engines General Electric.
As a basis, it is proposed to choose the An-124-102 with an expanded fuselage and a "glass cockpit" and the number of crew consisting of three people. The dimensions of the cargo compartment will be significantly increased due to an additional 2.3 meters in height. Increasing the height of the cargo compartment will significantly expand the range of goods transported.
However, the company is already working on examining the creation of a replacement type, because according to their analysis, the current An-124 will become completely obsolete by 2040. They found that the new model should be 35-40% more efficient than the current Antonov An-124, both in technical and economic terms. According to research by the company, the market would need an airplane with a payload of at least 150-170 tons to more than double its current range, ie, it can take 10,000 kilometers without intermediate landing. The immaturity of the designs is illustrated by the fact that the top view graphics show the type with two engines and the other visuals with four engines.
Commercially available today, the An-124-100 aircraft can carry 4,500 kilometers with a maximum load of 120 tons. (With the new engines, modernized and increased take-off mass, the An-124-100M-150 can transport 122 tons at 5,200 km and 150 tons at 3,200 km.)
The company estimates that they will need between 40 and 100 new-generation aircraft capable of carrying oversized and extremely heavy cargo in order to further strengthen their market position. The market for air transport of goods of special sizes and weights is constantly growing, especially with demand from the aerospace, mining and oil industries.
Of course, the new model will also need new engines that can outperform the current GE engines of the Boeing 747-8F. According to Volga-Dnepr, there is as yet no feasible plan on the table of Russian or foreign manufacturers for a future giant cargo type that could even approach the performance of the An-124.
In their view, no country or manufacturer can undertake a project so technically complex and huge in economic terms, so that companies and authorities need to work together to find the right solution. However, the next generation of giant freight planning needs to be started now in order to be commercialized by the 2060s.
|Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list|