Russia's United Aircraft has indicated that it wants to develop its Aviastar factory in Ulyanovsk as a centre of expertise for airlifters and commercial freighters.
UAC's desire to find another use for the huge Aviastar plant comes out of necessity. Despite its claims to the contrary, question marks hang over continued development of the Tupolev Tu-204SM - a key programme for the Ulyanovsk site - and Aviastar has chronically low build rates.
The company plans to build just one Tu-204SM, the second prototype, in the first half of the year, with five more in the second half. Just three Tu-204s were delivered in 2010, according to UAC's preliminary results.
UAC president Mikhail Pogosyan told the International Transport Forum in April that: "We consider Aviastar as a key enterprise that will serve as the basis to develop one of the most important segments of the United Aircraft Corporation's production range - the transport aircraft segment.
"At present, in this regard we face immense tasks. The decisions made within the framework of the state armaments programme, as well as prospects of market promotion of our products, make this segment one of the priorities in the United Aircraft Corporation's development."
UAC details the Aviastar operation's financial performance in its most recent full accounts, for the year to 31 December 2009. Although its net loss shrank to Rb1.7 billion ($64 million) from Rb3.1 billion the year before, debts ballooned to Rb15.6 billion, a rise of Rb5 billion on the previous year.
"Meanwhile, the activity of enterprises at the stage of restoration of serial aircraft production, the current volume of load of which is much less than existing production capacities [at Aviastar and VASO], was...unprofitable," the company said.
It said losses at the plants, including Aviastar, are caused by "an insufficient use of production capacities, the use of old technologies, as well as high costs for supply of systems and components".
Pogosyan has listed several programmes as Aviastar candidates, including the modified Ilyushin Il-76 and Antonov An-124, and cargo versions of the Tu-204.
Other UAC programmes in the sector include the Antonov An-70, of which the Russian defence ministry is seeking 60, and the Multirole Transport Aircraft (MTA), which is being developed jointly with India and has an intended production run of 300 aircraft.
The ministry is also looking to acquire 20 An-124s and up to 50 An-148s in various versions, including tactical airlifters.
Pogosyan said the modernised Il-76 is the near-term priority. Project 476 - as the updated version is known - began in December 2006 and first flight is planned for later this year. The project required digitising the original drawings of the Il-76, replacing its outdated avionics and adding Perm PS-90A2 turbofans instead of Saturn D-30KPs.
"A large amount of work has been done on launching the Il-76 into production," said Pogosyan. "We continue working on reshaping the airplane and giving it new qualities that will keep it competitive for decades to come."
In-service Il-76s will receive upgraded avionics while retaining their Saturn engines. There has been insufficient demand to justify a retrofit based on the PowerJet SaM146 powerplant.
Pogosyan said the Russian government and UAC continued to evaluate various schemes to shape a single programme to modernise the An-124 and resume production. UAC is co-ordinating its efforts with Antonov, including design work on the proposed An-124-300, intended for production at Aviastar.
"A principal decision [on the An-124] has been made but, so far, no timing is set and UAC continues talking to customers and vendors on the degree of modernisation of the [type's] on-board equipment," said Pogosyan. "It will take time as we need thorough evaluation.
"Immediate tasks for Aviastar are the Tu-204SM and Il-76, and then other projects will move forward based on the achievements we will have on these two earlier programmes."