Odessa Airlines plans to be a launch customer for the 90-seater Antonov An-148 regional jet, with a requirement for up to three aircraft.

Yuri Skoropis, general director of the Ukrainian state-owned airline, says he wants "two or three" aircraft, and would like to be the first operator. To date, two Russian airlines - Aeroflot and Volga-Dnepr - have expressed interest in ordering 30 and two An-148s respectively.

Odessa, which was the first commercial operator of the 52-seat An-140 turboprop, operates from the Ukrainian city of the same name to 20 destinations. The An-140s are operated through the state leasing company Ukrtranslizing, and the same method of acquisition would be used for the An-148s.

The high-wing An-148 is being developed from the An-72/74 utility aircraft. The first fuselage has been removed from the assembly jig at Antonov's experimental factory in Kiev and is being readied for its first flight early next year. Certification to Russian AP-25 airworthiness standards, harmonised with US Part 25 requirements, is targeted for 2004, with service entry in 2005.

Antonov recently revamped the An-148's specification, replacing its 14,300lb-thrust (64kN) ZMKB Progress D-36-AF turbofan with the 16,500lb D-436T that powers the Beriev Be-200 and Tupolev Tu-334. The basic 90-seat version of the An-148 has a 2,500km (1,350nm) range. Other variants are planned with increased fuel capacity but fewer seats.

Source: Flight International