In a previous article, we asked the question of which was better: an Airbus A380 or an Antonov AN-225? But we focused on the cargo aspect and didn’t consider if the Antonov was converted into a passenger aircraft. What would a passenger version of an AN-225 look like? Where would it fly? And would it make sense for airlines?
What is the Antonov AN-225?
The Antonov AN-225 is one of the world’s largest aircraft and is used as a freighter to carry large, bulky and heavy objects anywhere in the world. Whilst most of the time heavy things are carried by boat, sometimes objects need to be somewhere fast and away from land transport.
This is where the Antonov AN-225 has excelled.
It was originally built to carry the Russian variant of the NASA space shuttle but never saw its purpose when the political ground shifted beneath its wheels. The aircraft has six engines on impossibly wide wings (290 feet wide) supported by 32 wheels. So, to say that this aircraft is big is an understatement.
Using the A380 as a template
While we know that the aircraft is a fantastic cargo carrier (although not for long-haul routes), what would it be like as a passenger transporter?
First, we need to figure out how many passengers it could carry. We will make some assumptions that the aircraft will be twin-decked and configured in a three-class layout. We will use the Airbus A380 as a template to make some rough estimations.
The Airbus A380 has a 49.9 m (163 ft 9 in) long main deck and is 6.50 m (21 ft 4 in) wide. We know that is can fit roughly five rows of first class seats in a 1-2-1 configuration and 32 rows of economy seats in a 3-4-3 configuration.
On the upper deck of the A380 aircraft (which is smaller but we will assume the same size for ease), there are 16 rows of business class seats in an older 2-2-2 configuration. There is also an additional section of economy seats in a 2-4-2 configuration.
Overall there are 331 passengers on the lower deck and 188 passengers on the upper deck. Overall, 519 passengers onboard.
Converting the AN-225 into a passenger aircraft
The AN-225 has an internal space of 43.3 meters long (142 ft) and is 6.4 m (20 ft 2 in) wide. The aircraft is not as tall as an A380 and apparently only has an internal height of 4.4 m which, if divided up between decks, would be 2.2 meters (7 feet and 2 inches) compared to Airbus A380 height of 2.4 meters (7 feet and 8 inches).
But let us assume that thanks to some engineering we managed to make it comfortable enough and basketball players wouldn’t have to stoop.
We know that the aircraft is not as long as the A380 so it would carry fewer passengers on its two decks. Using the length as a power factor, we get 6.62 passengers per meter of aircraft length onboard the A380. Applying the same metric to the AN-225 gets 287 passengers for its 43.3 meters length.
However, the cabin is slightly narrower, so we would need to remove an economy passenger from each row. This would be 32 fewer economy passengers leaving 254 passengers on the lower deck.
An A380 upper deck there is 3.76 passengers per meter of length. Combining this metric with the AN-225 leaves us with 163 passengers split between business and the small economy section. The upper deck of the A380 is thinner at 5.80 m (19 ft 0 in) so likely we would be able to make the configuration 3-4-3 as opposed to 2-4-2, adding two more seats per row. This is an additional 26 seats and bringing out AN-225 upper deck to 188 seats.
Overall, the AN-225 would carry 287 on the lower deck and 188 on the upper deck, for a number of 475 total passengers in a three-class configuration.
Would the aircraft have any other advantages?
So we know that the aircraft would carry fewer passengers than an A380, but not by much and in relatively good comfort. But does the special design of this aircraft lend any other advantages?
Fully loaded, the A380 beats out the AN-225 every time. However, passengers don’t weigh as much as cargo and it is possible that fully loaded with people the AN-225 actually beats out the A380.
- Antonov’s AN-225 can fly 4,500 km loaded (2,500 nautical miles) with 200 tonnes, empty it can travel an impressive 15,400 km.
- For comparison, the Airbus A380 can fly 14,800 km (8,000 nautical miles) fully loaded with passengers. Qantas once flew an A380 almost 17,000 km with no passengers on board.
If we were to assume an average weight of a human is 62 kg (132 pounds), then the AN-225 would be carrying 29,450 kg (64,926 pounds), roughly 15% of its total weight carrying capacity. Needless to say, our people would not impact its range much at all compared to the heavy objects it normally transports.
Hence we could estimate 15,400 km (8,300 nautical miles) range, giving it a greater reach than the A380.
Would airlines use it?
The million-dollar question is whether or not airlines would want to use the AN-225 for commercial travel. The aircraft doesn’t carry as many passengers as the A380 and is not as fuel-efficient, thanks to all those powerful engines for cargo lifting.
It could be deployed on routes such as Sydney to Dubai and then onwards to London, but any airline with an AN-225 (or daresay a fleet) would lose out on a price war with someone using the A380 or Boeing 747-8, simply because they burn less fuel and can carry more passengers. There might be one or two routes in the world that the aircraft could do with its extra 300 nautical miles, but they are few and far between.
And it would be even worse for shorter routes, with the aircraft fuel burn going through the roof just to take off and land in a short amount of time.
The AN-225 was built for a specific service in mind and is great at its job. Just like how the A380 never made it as a cargo aircraft, the AN-225 would never survive as a passenger plane.
What do you think? Would you want to fly onboard an AN-225? Let us know in the comments.