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Do not be surprised if in the near future a stewardess on the new Ukrainian aircraft announces: "The captain and crew welcome you on board the new aircraft by Antonov such and such number that performs flight to Athens." Indeed, the An-158 has the potential to become a full-fledged competitor on the market and will be ready to conquer the skies this May
|PHÎÒÎ: ANTONOV ASTC|
From Siberia to independence
It took manufacturers of the An-158 more than half a century to create their brainchild, starting with the Design Bureau 153 created and headed by Oleg Antonov at the Novosibirsk Aviation Plant on May 31, 1946. In the summer of 1952 the design bureau moved to Kyiv having only one successful aircraft in its portfolio: the legendary An-2 crop duster, manufactured to this day, the tireless slogger, a hero of the Soviet-time jokes. Two other achievements of the Siberian period are not so significant: AN-4 was a modification of An-2 only on floats instead of the chassis and AN-14, a Bee, could not compete with the crop duster, so its technology was presented to the sister socialist Poland where it is produced to this day.
The Antonov bureau’s in Kyiv task was to supply the Union with military transport and cargo aircraft, while civilian aircraft were designed in Moscow by the Tupolev and Illyushin bureaus. Of the 27 aircraft designed and built to this day – the An-2 crop duster and the An-225 Mria – 20 are designed especially for military transport purposes and only seven - for passenger carriage. Noteworthy is that all Antonov passenger planes built in the times of the Soviet Union were for some reason immediately listed in NATO directories under NATO military codenames (AN-24 -Coke, An-28 - Cash, etc.).
The independence of Ukraine in 1991 coincided with the completion of the construction of two passenger airliners in Kyiv – the An-180 and the long-range An-218. Both projects were frozen due to the lack of funding.
A decade passed before the Aviant aviation plant in Kyiv and the Voronezh aircraft enterprise began working on the design of the An-148 aircraft. This time the project was financed by Russia, the U.S., France and 11 other countries. However, international cooperation imposed restrictions on this aircraft. Seeing as the Russians and their Western partners were not interested in creating really competitive products, the plane was initially designed for third world countries i.e. "with advanced passage capacity."
The aircraft is capable of landing on dirt strips in the mountains at an altitude of 1,500 meters above sea level and taking off even if one of its two engines fails during the take-off. The aircraft also performs well in tropical heat and temperatures of minus 52 degrees Celsius.
While the An-148 was still undergoing test flights, Iran ordered fifty units. According to expert calculations, this is only a tenth of the number of units that can be sold over the next three years. While the majority of An-148 aircraft are manufactured in Voronezh, Antonov’s CEO and chief designer Kiva says Ukraine earns half the profits from each aircraft. “We earn money on supplying the engines, wings, landing gear and electrical equipment. Plus, we get royalties” says Kiva.
Fly to Europe
However, the ultra-reliability of played a joke on the jet. Bolivian President Evo Morales, choose AN-148 as his new “airforce one”. After Morales the aircraft for the developing countries drawn the interest of the Russian presidential administration and Kremlin immediately bought two aircraft instead of previously chosen the Russian company Sukhoi SuperJet 100. The Sukhoi has assessed the situation and has suspended the assembly of its SuperJet, although they had already spent nearly US $2 bn. After this domestic liner attracted interest of the Ukrainian air carriers.
A Ukraine-assembled AN-148 made maden flight last June from Kyiv to Kharkiv. And then the Aerosvit opened regular flights from the capital to Odessa, Lviv and Simferopol. On February 15, AN-148 hit the EU skies as it made its maiden flight Kyiv-Warsaw-Kyiv.
However, AN-148 had no enough capacity for full competition with the global avian brands. Following the demand, the company made AN-158, a stretched version. It was only 1.7 m longer but allowed bringing the number of passengers up to 99 and make it into the class of regional aircraft, the main type of aircraft flying in the EU skies. There are also proposals for a stretched -200 series aircraft, 5.3 m longer which would seat 90–100 passengers.
At a recent meeting with President Yanukovych, Motor Sich CEO Vyacheslav Bohuslayev assured the president that the An-158, which his company supplies with the engines, will will be made airborne on May 9 as a "gift to Ukraine on the Great Victory Day." Aircraft manufacturers and designers are somewhat confused by the fact that they never promised a specific launch date of the first An-158 into the skies, though the enterprise had planned to do so this May.
Despite this, offering a reliable aircraft at an affordable price these days does guarantee that customers will immediately line up to buy it. The sale of such products is a separate sector of the economy with harsh rules. Most airlines prefer leasing aircraft rather than buying. This is precisely why manufacturers set up a sub-company that purchases aircraft on loan and then leases them to airlines. Another sub-contractor provides the technical maintenance of the aircraft all over the world. This is the only way it can compete with the world’s most successful airlines. Be that as it may, this is business is new to Ukraine that must be thoroughly learned and mastered.
Dmytro Kiva President and Chief Designer of the Antonov Aviation Plant
The first flight of the AN-158 will be held as scheduled in early May. We did not set an exact date especially for the celebration of Victory Day on May 9. We are focusing on the technological chain that simply coincided with the jubilee of this historic date. The aircraft has been assembled and is currently undergoing round-the -clock testing, which should show how the aircraft and its individual components perform under different vibrations. After the first flight the An-158 aircraft will undergo testing and certification, which means it will be put into full-cycle production no earlier than 2011.
When developing the new model we not only lengthened the fuselage, but also made changes to the design of the wings and other parts of the aircraft, but also improved its fuel efficiency, which is essential for the market. But it is even more important to introduce on the market a wide range of modifications such as the An-168 and An-178, which we are currently working on them.
Ihor Stepanov Director of the Department of Advanced Developments at Ivchenko-Progress
There is a popular joke among aircraft manufacturers: if you attach a reliable, high-performance engine to a fence, the fence will take off. And even though half of the An-158 is equipped with components manufactured in Russia, the engine installed in the aircraft is made in Ukraine. The development of a similar engine would cost US $500 million in the west, while in Ukraine it is several times cheaper.
This is a fourth generation engine, the capacities of which are not fully used on the An-148. But even the engine of the An-158 has a power reserve that will be installed in the cargo modification of the An-178 currently in the design stage.
Experts estimate the market volume of the An-148 family (158, 168 and 178) at 700-800 aircraft over the next 10-12 years. At a price tag of US $20-25 million, the new plane will bring in US $4-20 billion in revenues.