Ruslan Market Continues to Grow
This year Volga-Dnepr (VD), the largest civilian user of An-124 Ruslan, celebrates 10 years since foundation. Since 1990, VD has fulfilled 1,700 orders, having transported 300,000 t of cargo and having visited 400 airports around the world. The airline was established in August 1990 and a year after entered the international market with a totally new product - conveyance of bulky, heavy cargoes on the world's largest operational cargo plane.
Created by Antonov design bureau under the appropriate order from the Soviet Defense Ministry, the An-124 Ruslan provided a base for creation of its civilian version, the An-124-100, which began working the market of unique bulky cargoes in 1989. Having a cargo cabin volume of 1,270 cu.m, the 390-tonne giant is able to transport 120 t of freight 4,800 km or 80 t 8,400 km at a speed of 800 kmh with an hourly fuel consumption of 10 t.
Now VD has a fleet of nine An-124s and is going to take delivery of a tenth airplane new from Aviastar factory in Ulianovsk this summer. The plane's construction is funded from the credits of the Savings Bank of the Russian Federation - Russia's largest bank granted credits to VD on favorable terms noting the good credit history of the airline.
This tenth An-124-100 is going to be displayed at Farnborough'2000 as the first series-built airframe with 24,000-hour lifetime, engines with assigned resource of 20,000 hours and full correspondence to the latest requirements to noise and avionics.
VD has plans to remain the largest An-124 user in the foreseeable future, and to keep control over at least half of the Ruslan market. Its main competitor, Antonov Airlines, a daughter company of Antonov design bureau of the Ukraine, now has eight airframes. Competition between the two companies is high. VD tries to keep its leading positions by a better efficiency of using workforce and fleet - in 1999 it reported a 10% improvement in this field.
Another important step for VD in 1999 was an increase in An-124 annual flight time up to 1300 hours, which is a relatively low figure in comparison with these for wide-body passenger airliners. The An-124, however, is quite another plane, with specialisation in charter services on conveyance of unique cargoes. The figure of 1300 hours is a good indicator, given the average figure for the Il-76 freighter fleet in 1999 of 650 flight hours per operable airframe. VD says that it has plans to increase annual initiation rate per one airframe up to 1800-2000 hours in the future.
In 1999 VD spent 40% of its profit on flight safety measures and upgrade of the fleet. The airline modified its three Il-76TD freighters with hushkits and modern avionics items so that now they can fly in Western Europe without restriction. By the end of 2000 VD will have all its cargo aircraft modified to the latest requirements to noise, emission and quality of avionics. This effort would require $15-20 million.
In 1999 the solvent market demand in the Ruslan services rouse by 25%, up to $195 million. Back in 1995 it was $134 million, in 1998 $177 million. Past year the rise in the volume of sales exceeded that in aerial work by 8%. The rise in orders came from aerospace industry (orders for conveyance of satellites, aircraft and rocket engines and other components of airplanes and launch vehicles), automobile manufactures and oil companies.
The year 2000 is bring a new milestone in the Ruslan history. Technical issues with prolongation of the An-124 lifetime to 24000 flight hours and 24 years have been resolved and now the developer (ANTK Antonov), the manufacturer (Aviastar), scientific-research establishments, state and certification bodies are preparing a pack of documents for formalisation of this. It is expected that the An-124-100 will get a complimentary certificate for the lifetime of 24000 hours by the end of this year.
This act will enable the An-124 users to have better chances to get long-term (8-10 year) credits for development from foreign investors which have been reluctant to do this on the ground of insufficient initially-assigned resources of the airframe. It should be noted that the ZMKB Progress D-18T engine that powers the Ruslan has already acquired a complimentary certification for 20000 flight hours.
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