$160m would get three An-225s flying - Air Foyle

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An investment of just $160 million would be enough to complete certification of the Antonov An-225 Mriya ("Dream") giant outsized freighter and to provide three flying examples within two years, says an air cargo executive closely associated with Antonov.

Air Foyle cargo charter division director Bruce Bird estimates that $20 million would get the first and only An-225 built to date flying and certificated within six months.

Another $40 million would be enough to complete the second An-225 - already half-built - within a year, and another $100 million would cover the cost of building a third An-225 from scratch.

"That's slightly more than the cost of one 747-400 and slightly less than one MD-17," observes Bird, speaking at Commercial Aviation Report's Cargo Industry Seminar in Chicago.

By far the world's biggest aircraft, the An-225 was originally built to transport the proposed Soviet space shuttle, Buran, externally, and the enormous Energia rocket booster.

The An-225 was designed to carry the Buran externally along with all the special gantry equipment needed to load the shuttle on to the dorsal fuselage of the An-225.

It first flew in 1988, and stunned the world when it made its public debut at the Farnborough Air Show in 1990.

However, following the collapse of the USSR, both the Buran and the Energia projects were cancelled and work on the An-225 was abandoned.

According to Bird, the only An-225 completed now rests without engines at Antonov's flight test base.

Air Foyle - which developed the outsized cargo market with Antonov by first operating the An-124 freighter commercially - maintains a keen interest in the An-225 because its payload capability is far beyond that of any other aircraft in existence or due to fly in the next decade.

According to Bird, the commercial An-225 could carry a payload of 250,000kg - 250 tonnes - and it has the unique capability to carry its load internally, externally, or by a mixture of both methods.

The external load could be as big as 70m (229.5ft) - within 3ft of the length of a complete Boeing 747 fuselage - by 8m (26.2ft) and Bird reveals that Antonov and Air Foyle have performed design work on external cargo pods measuring 39m (128ft) by 10m (32.8ft).

Bird says that the An-225 project was cancelled when the second aircraft was half-complete and with the type still needing about 20% of its pre-certification testing to be done. However, he estimates that only 100hr of flight-testing would be needed to complete the remainder of the certification programme.

According to Bird, the first aircraft requires six engines - these having been cannibalised for An-124 operations, now Antonov's lifeblood - as well as a complete overhaul and completion of type certification testing.

He says that manufacture of the assemblies for the second aircraft is substantially complete, but the airframe has not been assembled and it requires engines, systems and some components. The pieces of the second An-225 are at Antonov's factory in Kiev in the Ukraine.

"It is very close to completion and there is only minor investment needed for completion," states Bird.

Assembly of a third aircraft would take place from first principles. However, Bird points out that all of the tooling and jigs for the An-225 are already in place and a great deal of money has been spent on the project over the years.

"There is a vast investment already done," he says.

Bird adds that Air Foyle processes about 200 enquiries a week for the An-124 and that from this evidence the company believes there exists a market for an aircraft able to carry more than the 120-tonne capacity of the An-225's smaller sister, the biggest freighter available today.

"My gut reaction is, 'provide the aircraft and the customers will come'," he says.