Volga-Dnepr pushes An-124 co-operation

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Kieran Daly/LONDON

VOLGA-DNEPR Airlines is leading a renewed effort to co-ordinate the investment by operators of the Antonov An-124 Ruslan outsized freighter in technical improvements to the aircraft.

The carrier hosted an April meeting of An-124 operators and suppliers in Ulyanovsk, where it proposed a collaborative programme and the creation of an An-124 Joint Co-ordination Council (JCC) to implement and oversee the activity.

Volga-Dnepr says that delegates, including representatives of rival operators, agreed to the JCC proposal. The body would co-operate with Antonov in creating a "technical design bureau" to carry out the work.

Priorities include improvements to the Progress D-18T turbofans; minor loading-system enhancements; and the Westernisation of avionics to incorporate a traffic-alert and collision-avoidance system (TCAS 2), Western satellite-communications, global-positioning system and inertial- navigation system.

Western sources involved in An-124 activities remain sceptical about what will actually come of the move, but agree that some improvements will almost certainly result (Flight International, 8-14 February).

Volga-Dnepr indicates that the avionics issues are so pressing that it will probably go ahead with avionics improvements with or without other operators. The USA is almost certain to insist on TCAS 2 installation soon, and an improved radio-suite could do away with the need for the An-124's so-called "second engineer", with attendant cost-savings.

Progress on developing a noise Stage 3-compatible version of the D-18T remains slow and talks continue on the possibility of re-engineing with Western power plants.

Graham Pearce, commercial director of Volga-Dnepr's joint-venture partner, Heavylift Cargo Airlines, says that General Electric is the most interested engine supplier. The manufacturer could supply used examples of the early analogue version of its CF6 turbofan, which would be more compatible with the An-124 than would digitally controlled engines.

Pearce notes that a new engine pylon would be necessary, with expensive design implications, as the design work would probably have to be done by Antonov, while only Aviastar of Russia is now building the aircraft.