Ian Sheppard/TASHKENT

The Republic of Uzbekistan, a land-locked country lying at the centre of the historic "Silk Road" between Europe and China, gained independence on 1 September, 1991, following the collapse of the Soviet Union. The aviation industry it inherited was in two state-owned blocks - The Uzbek Khavo Yullari National Air Company (one of 33 major units which made up Aeroflot) and the VP Chkalov Tashkent Aircraft Production Organisation (TAPO).

Uzbekistan president, Islam Karimov, says that, since then, his Government has "-initiated drastic transformations aimed at overcoming the raw-material-oriented economy and establishing export-oriented production facilities".

In May 1996, TAPO was registered as a joint-stock company, with the state holding 61%, employees 15%, and the National Bank of Foreign Economic Activity 10%. The remaining 14% has recently been offered to foreign investors. Such restructuring puts co-operation with other organisations on a more coherent, commercial, footing. It is already working closely with the Voronezh aircraft-production organisation and hopes that its relationship with Ilyushin will be clearer to outside investors.

The national carrier, meanwhile, has been relaunched as Uzbekistan Airlines, with new livery and a fleet of Western aircraft, which has grown from the one Airbus A310 it acquired in 1994. Its extensive fleet of former Aeroflot aircraft is now largely redundant.



Although Karimov spent the best part of his working life as an engineer with TAPO, and it is clearly close to his heart, the evaporation of demand has all but paralysed the company for the first five years of independence, while other industries have forged ahead (see box). To make matters worse for TAPO, its key design and sales elements are still centred in Moscow, with the Ilyushin Aviation Complex and Avia export, respectively. TAPO's main aircraft-production plant in Tashkent was completed as the Soviet empire crumbled and, although a bit rough at the edges, is now the most extensive in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), if not central Asia. Its main activity is production of the Ilyushin Il-76 turbofan freighter and newer Ilyushin Il-114 regional turboprop.

It has three other plants: one which makes landing gear and fuel systems in Tashkent; one in Andizhan making ground equipment and hydraulic units; and another in Ferghana, which makes wings and tails for aircraft such as the Il-76, and will manufacture the wings for the new Antonov An-70 propfan transport.

TAPO has its own design bureau, although it relies on Moscow for major work such as new aircraft projects, and has produced the Il-76K and Il-76MDK derivatives, for cosmonaut training in a zero G environment, the SCALPEL Il-76 flying hospital and the Il-78 inflight refuelling tanker. It also works with Beriev on the A-50 airborne early warning aircraft, also based on the Il-76MD.

At its Soviet-era peak, the factory assembled ten Il-76s a month. It now plans to complete 18 Il-76s and 12 Il-114s in 1997. In 1996, only five aircraft were completed, while eight were sold.

Today, completed current Il-76 variants are strewn about outside the plant. Inside the sparsely manned factory, white-tailed, and other aircraft are at various stages of assembly. Their powerplants are twice as thirsty as their Western equivalents and, says Uzbekistan Airways director-general Arslan Ruzmetov, "-the D30K engine on the Il-76 has a lifetime of 6,500h while, on our A310s, we replaced an engine after it had logged 17,000h". Also, TAPO commercial director Shuhrat Rakhimov says: "Ukraine and Russia have been 'dumping' aircraft on the market," further driving down prices.

Gradually, though, and not without a little prompting from the West, TAPO is finding its way. It recently signed a marketing agreement with Fortis Aviation of the UK and has taken what it hopes is the first tentative step towards licence production of Western aircraft, in a deal with Aero International (Regional) (AI(R)) under which it has started producing components for the AI(R) RJ family (Flight International, 16-22 July). This is part of an offset agreement under which Uzbekistan Airways will have three RJ-85s by early 1998.


Mass production

The factory is optimistically preparing for mass production of the stretched Il-76MF powered by Perm Motors PS-90As, which Fortis is likely to market. The development prototype is undergoing certification trials at Gromov's Flight Test and Research Institute in Zhukovski, Russia, and is due to be certificated by the end of 1997.

Around 40,000 employees still draw around $130 a month each from TAPO. It was previously "cradle-to-grave stuff", says an AI(R) employee whose factory has a similar output with 2,000 employees. TAPO has yet to implement changes, so AI(R) insisted that a separate cost-centre is used for its work. Rakhimov says that steps have been taken to set up a sales force outside the CIS. TAPO has set up agencies in the USA and south-east Asia and will visit Africa in the near future. It has organised a marketing department and is to launch a leasing company (Uzavia-leasing) this month. He admits that leasing is the only way Russian airlines are likely to be able to afford to take up the 600 Il-114s ordered, at the asking price of about $10million each.

AI(R) executives express frustration that Il-114s may be ordered by the Uzbekistan airline, since TAPO needs the backing of its country's flag carrier, whereas AI(R) could provide ATR 42s far more cost-effectively, particularly in the long run. They also believe that the airline would like more RJs.

The Il-114 programme represents a major investment for the country, however. Russian funding was withdrawn following the loss of the second prototype on 5 July, 1993, on take-off from Moscow's Khodinka Airport, home of the Ilyushin design bureau.

TAPO has since pushed on alone with Government backing in the hope that Aeroflot Russian International Airlines (ARIA) will go ahead in ordering around 600 of the type to achieve its recently stated aim of setting up regional hubs all over Russia. Meanwhile, the flight-test programme at Zhukovski having finished, two Il-114s are being flown by Uzbekistan Airways for a year as part of certification trials. The passenger version was certificated earlier this year, while the freighter is expected to gain approval in September.

The major problem with the Il-114 has been its Klimov TV-7-117 powerplants. The airline purchased two Il-114s "a couple of years ago", before realising that the aircraft had experimental engines requiring overhaul after only 300h. With nowhere to overhaul the engines, both aircraft were grounded. TAPO's Rakhimov says that the Moscow-based Ilyushin is working with Pratt & Whitney Canada to re-engine the Il-114. "I had a meeting with [P&WC] and they told me they would provide financing for TAPO on condition that I place a firm order for ten airframes with PW127s," he says.

Uzbekistan Airways now operates a VIP-configured Boeing 757, two 767-300ERs and an RJ85 Avroliner. Ruzmetov signed the original memorandum of understanding with AI(R) in Seattle while he was training to fly the 767, the first of which he flew back to Tashkent in December 1996. According to Ruzmetov, a further contract with Boeing similar to that struck with AI(R) through TAPO is expected to be signed later this year, enabling it to acquire two Boeing-767F freighters through the sale of two Il-76s to an undisclosed Western buyer. Ruzmetov says, however, that the airline is to replace most of its current fleet of 20 Il-76TD/MDs with MFs.



The airline is thought to want to shed its aviaremont (maintenance operation) at Tashkent's Yuzny Airport, which is still known as Aviation Repair Plant 243. Built in 1977, it performs overhauls of Il-62s, Il-76s and Il-86s as well as of the Ivchenko Al-25 engine for the Yakovlev Yak-40. Chief manager Nikolay Zhuravlev admits that "-there is not much work now - around 45 overhauls a year". One of three cells will be turned over to C-checks on the company's Airbus A310 aircraft towards the end of next year, however. British Aerospace Engineering Services of Filton, UK, is in the process of training Uzbeki engineers from the plant.

TAPO used to have spares and customer support operations at Tashkent Airport, but this is now handled at the Tashkent plant. Zhuravlev says that the plant also provides Il-62 and Il-76 overhaul for the rest of the CIS and for Arab, Chinese and other operators.

Elsewhere, modernisation of the rest of the Uzbeki aviation infrastructure includes significant investment in airports and air-traffic-control, increasing from 200 to 500 the number of flights which can be handled in Uzbek airspace each day.


Forging ahead

Uzbekistan is rich in natural resources, allowing it to be self-sufficient. No fuel is imported and it mines its own industrial raw materials - for example, the Uzbek Combine of High-Melting and High-Temperature Metals, situated 30km (16 miles) from Tashkent. The plant is "vertically integrated", producing finished components from raw materials, mainly tungsten and molybdenum alloys.

It has introduced techniques such as arc and electron-ray melting to produce high-temperature metals, including monocrystals (eg, turbine blades) and ultra-dispersed powders. Components are produced for various industries, including aerospace and, since 1994, the combine has driven exports to outside the CIS from nothing to 30% of production, mostly through joint ventures.

The combine is working on an intensive programme for producing pure rare-earth metals, such as scandium, claiming up to 99.99% purity, from local Uzbeki ores.


Source: Flight International