A new stage in the development of the Antonov An-70 transport aircraft has begun, with Ukrainian and Russian military pilots beginning a series of test flights within the past fortnight.

"That is why the aircraft is not here," said Antonov design bureau public relations manager Andrii Sovenko at the show yesterday. "It is very important to move the test programme forward."

More than 100 flights have completed exploration of the aircraft's basic flight characteristics, and Antonov is keen to show it to potential customers.

The Russian and Ukrainian air forces had agreed to buy 300 and 100 An-70's, respectively, but financial constraints of recent years have left the deal in limbo. Talks over the possibility of using the An-70 as the basis for a European Future Large Aircraft (FLA) continue, said Sovenko.

Although the Airbus Military Company rejected the An-70 in May, German defence minister Volker Ruehe remains a champion of the aircraft and several teams of Daimler-Benz Aerospace (Dasa) technical experts have been in Kiev recently, studying the aircraft's airframe and electronics. An Antonov team is in Munich at the moment having further discussions, and the findings of the German experts on technical and commercial aspects of the aircraft are likely to be issued before the German general election later this month, says Sovenko.

Source: Flight Daily News