Paris 2011: Antonov Charts Its Own Course as It Plots Production Growth
Ukraine’s Antonov has come a long way since it was last here at the Paris Air Show, but it still has a long way to go. In February, its An-158 regional jet completed initial type certification and first deliveries are pending. The smaller An-148 model has been in service for some time with launch customers Aerosvit (three aircraft) and Rossiya (six).
But the company’s main challenge is to establish itself as a full-fledged airframer in its own right, rather than being just a design bureau–albeit a well-regarded one. Antonov absorbed the Aviant factory in Kiev at a time when the operation was deeply in debt and in need of a bailout, with the restructuring orchestrated by the Ukrainian government.
“We have already invested $100 million in the plant,” said Dmitry Kiva, Antonov general designer. The factory has been modernized and retooled.
Kiva is convinced that there are big markets for both the An-158 and An-148, despite what some people view as an overlap with Russia’s Superjet SJ100 aircraft. Also in Antonov’s portfolio are the An-70 military transport and the An-124-300 large freighter. Meanwhile, the smaller An-26 cargo aircraft recently achieved a breakthrough step by obtaining European Aviation Safety Agency certification.
Antonov’s plans to deliver no more than 10 regional jets this year, with three to be built in Kiev and the rest at the company’s plant in Voronezh. Kiva admitted that poor management in the past and insufficient support from Ukraine’s previous government had left Antonov’s production infrastructure weak. The company has since arranged a line of credit for the factories with the Russian bank VTB and also strengthened its business plans via a string new cooperation agreements with Russia’s United Aircraft Corp. (UAC).
The new management is counting on more proactive support for Ukraine’s aerospace industry from the country’s new government. “But no one can really help us, but ourselves,” Kiva told AIN.
Immediate plans call for an increase in output to two airplanes per month and then up to three, with Kiev focusing on the stretched An-158 and Voronezh on the baseline An-148. Looking further into future, the company wants to build a business case for boosting production to as much as 60 to 80 units per year.
“Ukrainian plants used to make more than this,” Kiva explained. “Kharkov produced 66 Tu-134s a year and Kiev 200 An-24/26s. We were once able to do that many, so why can’t we do it today?” Lowering costs and streamlining the manufacturing process are the key to success. “In some cases we rework certain airframe parts for fewer man-hours or lower cost,” he said.
Part of the plan is to extend its existing partnerships with Chinese manufacturers, who could contribute as component suppliers to Antonov programs. Antonov has long been involved in various Chinese programs, including local production of the An-2, An-12 and An-24 derivatives, and shaping the wing of Avic’s new ARJ-21 airliner.
At the same time, Antonov is boosting its ties with the Russian aerospace industry, building on a long-established alliance with the Ilyushin Finance Co. (IFC). The Moscow-based lessor promotes the An-148 worldwide including in the Commonwealth of Independent States and Asia. Earlier this year, Antonov and UAC established a 50/50 joint venture to coordinate industrial cooperation and marketing efforts.
The An-158 and Sukhoi’s Superjet 100 are often pictured as competitors, but Kiva disagrees. He said, “In comparable cabin configuration, the An-158 takes 90 passengers against 100 [for the SJ-100]. Ten passengers make a difference. I promised Sukhoi not to go beyond 100 seats, and our biggest number of seats is 99 at 30 inches pitch for low-cost operators.”
Besides, the SJ100 is heavier and not intended to operate from unpaved runways. “The two aircraft fall in different market niches. In my view, airlines must have a choice and be free to buy the airplanes that they find more suitable,” Kiva concluded.
Although critics say the An-158 program upset some elements in the Russian industry, its creator insists its launch was market-driven. “For airlines it is important to operate a family of airplanes, and so we offer the smaller An-148 for thinner air routes and the An-158 for higher passenger flows. This improves operational economics.”
In fact, the Russian content in the An-158 comes to about 50 percent. “In a sense it is a more Russian airplane that a certain model from a Russia,” Kiva quipped. Antonov was offered the Franco-Russian PowerJet SaM-146 engine for the An-158, but opted instead for the Russian Ivchenko Progress D-436 turbofans.
But Antonov has no qualms about taking work to suppliers beyond Ukraine and neighboring Russia, if it feels it can get better quality and value elsewhere. It has already ditched a Ukrainian weather radar and Russian wheels and brakes on these grounds.
Here at the Paris Air Show, Antonov also is displaying models of a larger An-168 version of the twinjet, plus a maritime patrol derivative. Also featured is the An-178, which appears to be intended as a military transport.