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Sources skeptical of Ruslan retool

By control on September 14, 2011

Last month, Russia’s Volga-Dnepr Group announced it will modernize one of its AN-124-100 “Ruslan” freighters to an AN-124-111VD. Ukrainian manufacturer Antonov Company will perform the renovation and is planning to use the modernized AN-124 as the prototype for the eventual launch of its AN-124-300 freighter product line.

But a few voices skeptical of the project have emerged.

“It is going to be a big task, requiring billions of dollars, to get an aircraft production line like this going again,” said one industry analyst. “Added to which, you need to ensure you have all your component suppliers in place.” That level of investment, he added, could never be recovered by the relatively limited order potential of such a unique aircraft.

Typically, it has been revealed, restarting production may be hampered by the simple lack of tooling machines used to build the original aircraft. “The AN-124 has a unique wing design manufactured from a single piece of aluminum, the tooling machine for which has been destroyed,” one observer commented.

The only real hope for the comeback of the re-invented AN-124, commentators have said, would be if the Russian military saw a strategic need for such a transporter and were to place orders in significant numbers. After all, the aircraft was originally designed to serve in a frontline military role. “That is not the case today,” said one analyst. “The current Russian military machine is designed to fight small local wars, without the need for an extensive strategic airlift requirement.”

The only other alternative for the Russians, in seeking to offset new-build costs for the aircraft, would be to embrace a joint production program with a Western aircraft manufacturer. A project like this has been hinted at before, with talk of Boeing becoming involved in final assembly of the aircraft. But Boeing has its own potential heavy-lift contender with a possible commercial variant of the C-17, although its 80-tonne payload makes it a relative lightweight in the market.

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