Will an enigmatic Hong Kong company restart the An-225 in China?

Second fuselage 02

The unfinished second fuselage of the An-225, reportedly languishing in Antonov’s Ukraine hangar.

According to a press release put out by Ukraine-based Antonov on Aug. 30, a two-part “cooperation agreement” was reached with a Chinese company identified as “Aerospace Industry Corporation of China (AICC)” to resume production of the An-225 “Mriya,” currently the largest airplane in the world, and the only one of its kind ever built – for now.

Noting that “both stages would be implemented individually,” Antonov said the first phase would be final assembly of a second, partially built An-225 in Ukraine. For the future, the two companies agreed to consider serial production of the An-225 in China.

But how likely are we to see an An-225 roll off a Chinese production line in the near future?

We begin with a brief history on the An-225 Mriya. The six-engine aircraft, designed to transport Soviet-era spacecraft (such as the “Buran” space shuttle), measures 84 meters long, and 18 meters high, with a maximum payload capacity of 253 tonnes. Outside of spacecraft transport, the unit has since found a new life in worldwide charter services operated by Antonov Airlines.

Second fuselage 01

The second fuselage, seen lengthwise, of the longest aircraft ever built.

Returning to Antonov’s new agreement with AICC, producing a second unit in Ukraine seems doable, especially if, as Antonov has in the past claimed, the company already possess many of the key components needed. Although production of the goliath aircraft has been idled since 1988, Antonov officials say they already have a nearly finished fuselage, wings and tail as well as a prototype unit with other components. Whether AICC wishes to operate the second unit in charter service, or sell it to another entity remains to be disclosed, but the pieces of that second aircraft may just come together.

As for a “made-in-China” An-225, much of that rests on Antonov’s Chinese partner, the identity of which leaves much to the imagination. What exactly is Aerospace Industry Corporation of China (as Antonov called it)? Hong Kong-based AICC bears great resemblance to the state-owned Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC), which could conceivably finance and execute on such a project. However, AVIC has claimed no involvement in the project. While it is often difficult to recognize the nuances of Chinese business names translated into English, even Chinese media cannot seem to fully grasp the identify of this company, which has been called “mysterious,” “confusing” and “impossible to unravel.”

AICC’s own website, Baidu Encyclopedia (the Chinese Google’s version of Wikipedia), and businesses registries in mainland China all offer contradicting reports as to the company’s true identity. On its website, AICC claims it was “established in 2010 with a registered capital of 500 million Hong Kong dollars, is a general aviation airport construction, environmental technology, electronic intelligence, import and export trade, all-in-one modern enterprise.” On Baidu, AICC appears to be mainly involved in airport construction, “having already participated in the construction of 60 airports since 2001, with successful bids to do work on 80 civil airports over the next five years.” A search for AICC in mainland China turns up almost nothing, though there was a private company founded in Hong Kong – not in 2010 as AICC’s website claimed, but in 2012.

AICC has surfaced in other reports for its newly formed cooperative agreements with Sichuan’s Luzhou municipal government, as well as the city-level government of Guigang, to setup a production base for the An-225. But as The Observer (translated from Guanchazhe) notes, “neither Luzhou, Sichuan, nor Guigang, Guangxi, have any known aircraft manufacturing experience.” Technical prowess aside, both regions lack the infrastructure required to bring in the components necessary to make the aircraft. In fact, it seems there exists only one cargo aircraft large enough to transport An-225 components. Any guesses as to what it might be?

An-225 side view, photo: Slava Stephanov

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