By Vovick Karnozov
AWN Moscow-based columnist
The past week was a good one for the manufacturers of the Ilyushin Il-76 four-jet freighter and frustrating for Antonov and its allies on the An-70 airlifter.
While the Il-76TF, a new civilian version of Ilyushin's 30-year-old design, acquired its first customer, the An-70's chances to win the tender for the future European airlifter were further reduced with the announcement of the UK government that Airbus Military Company's A400M is the long-term choice to replace its remaining fleet of the aging C-130 Hercules transports (see related story) .
The UK's commitment to the A400M is expected to induce a stronger interest from Germany in the new Airbus design. Together with France, which also favors the A400M, the UK and Germany could together produce a sufficient joint order to make the whole project profitable for Airbus and thus suitable for launch. This leaves the An-70 sales prospects confined to a weak CIS market whose resources are hardly big enough to afford series production of the plane.
While the interest in the An-70 is subsiding, that in the upgraded Il-76 is building up. On May 17, East Line Airlines, Russia's largest cargo carrier with a fleet of 50 aircraft and a member in the powerful private sector East Line group, signed an agreement with the TAPO (Tashkent Aircraft Production Association) factory on completion and operational lease of two Il-76TF aircraft.
The carrier's general director Amirani Kurtanidze said that if the aircraft proves its merits in service, the airline will order more airframes. The TF is a civilian variant of the Il-76MF now finalizing acceptance trials with the Russian air force (RusAF).
The deal between East Line and TAPO is rather complicated, reflecting peculiarities of the CIS economics and financial system. East Line agreed to fund the purchase of the missing parts for the two aircraft, worth $8 million, and also the purchase of eight PS-90A engines, each priced at $2.4 million, for the right to operate these aircraft under operational lease agreement on their completion.
The payments that the Russian airline made for the completion of the two aircraft will be taken into account when it comes to paying rentals for the operating leases. The aircraft, however, will be registered in Uzbekistan, a former Soviet republic and now an independent state where TAPO happened to situate after the Soviet Union collapsed.
The two Il-76TFs will belong to the Uzbeki national carrier, Uzbekiston Khavo Yullari. The latter company agreed to take the aircraft from the manufacturer under a 10-year financial lease. In practice, Uzbekiston Khavo Yullari will act as an intermediary between East Line and TAPO so as to make use of certain advantages that the Uzbeki government grants to the local enterprises. The Uzbeki government is said to have given its approval for the deal.
The first TF is to be completed this fall and to have its maiden flight by the end of the year. The type is to acquire civilian certification to AP-25, the Russian analogue for FAR25, next spring. The first aircraft will be delivered to East Line on completion of certification trials with the second due for delivery by the beginning of 2002. Such a high speed of certification is said to be possible because the TF is merely a civilian variant of the Il-76MF. The latter commenced its flight test program in August 1995, and its official acceptance is just a matter of paper work.
The MF and TF are two latest mutations of the four-engine transport that flew for the first time in 1971 and become operational three years later. The most numerous models, the military Il-76MD and the civilian Il-76TD, both still in production at TAPO, feature Rybinsk Motors D-30KP engines each producing a thrust of 12000 kgf. Externally, the new-generation MF/TF variants differ from their predecessors MD/TD in a longer fuselage (by 6.6 meters) and new engines (Perm Motors PS-90As in place of the D-30KPs). The fuselage length is increased by means of two insertions. The cabin volume rose from 321 to 400 cu.m, which is more appropriate for the maximum cargo limitation, currently at 60 tons.
Installation of the state-of-the-art PS-90A engines, rated at 14000 kgf for takeoff and 16000 kgf for emergency conditions, allowed to reduce the hourly fuel burn by 20%-25% and give the aircraft a capability to fly across the Atlantic. The PS-90A meets all current and upcoming requirements to noise and emission. The archaic analog instruments on the MD/TD are replaced on the MF/TF by multifunctional color displays and modern radio and navigational systems meeting RVSN (reduced vertical separation) requirements. East Line says that it made the commitment to the Il-76TF with the intent to use the aircraft on routes to Western Europe and the US.
Apart from dealing with East Line on the Il-76TF, TAPO is in negotiations with other Russian companies, most notably Volga-Dnepr, on retrofitting in-service Il-76TDs with PS-90A engines.
Also, the factory is negotiating with China on supplying 20 D-30KP-powered aircraft to the People's Liberation Army. In 1997-98 China took delivery of 12 Il-76s and is now looking for more airframes. TAPO says it has sets of parts for as many as 40 Il-76s and that it can deliver 20 aircraft to China within one year after upon singing the contract.
If the Chinese do place the expected order for 20 Il-76s, this might encourage the RusAF to prefer the Il-76MF over the An-70. Indeed, with a large Chinese order in hand, TAPO will be able to offer RusAF better terms, including a lower cost per airframe. Technically, the Il-76MF is a modern, highly capable airlifter comparable with the C-17 Globemaster.
TAPO general director Vadim Kucherov claims that the Il-76MF option has a number of advantages over that of the An-70. The main advantages are that the Il-76 is a reliable, proven aircraft with a vast logistics and well-functioning crew-training systems. Also, the sticker price for the An-70 and Il-76MF are close, while the payload capabilities are 35-45 tons for the An-70 and 60 tons for the Il-76MF, respectively. Kucherov said that a task of moving 375 tons of freight over a distance of 7000km would require 10 sorties on the Il-76MF and 32 on the An-70. Kucherov also claimed that Vladimir Putin, who visited TAPO in December last year and RusAF commander Anatoly Kornukov, who inspected the factory earlier this year, clearly expressed their interest in providing the RusAF with the Il-76MF aircraft. This gives TAPO hope for a new major order.
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