The upswing in cargo demand in the wake of the corona-crisis has made for more trips than usual for the world’s largest cargo jet. The frequency of AN-225 operations has led to speculations on whether or not the completion of its unfinished sister aircraft could potentially be back on the cards. However, just recently, Antonov’s CEO told reporters that getting the plane airworthy and operational is “economically unviable.”
No financial sense to complete
The Antonov AN-225 is unique. There is only one of the world’s largest and heaviest six-engine cargo jet. That is, if you do not take into account the second Mriya, sitting in a hangar at Antonov’s main plant in Gostomel just outside Kyiv, Ukraine, about 70% complete.
With all that cargo needing transportation, and passenger air travel projected a slow recovery, could the second ultra-heavy “Dream” aircraft finally get a chance to taste air beneath her wings?
Oleksander Donets, CEO of the plane’s manufacturer Antonov, says no. Talking to the Kyiv Post, Donets stated that the completion of the second Mriya would not make any financial sense whatsoever. He said that they would now need to redesign the unfinished aircraft entirely to adapt it to current conditions and standards.
“According to estimates made in 2012, when our relations with (Russia) were good, (the costs of construction) has reached nearly $460 million for the old specifications it was built with,” Donets said, adding that the price would be even higher when taking into account the addition of more modern components.
Would not recoup the costs
According to Antonov’s calculations, the second AN-225 would never recuperate these expenses. At least not with the commercial transport of cargo. While making for spectacular assignments, the Mriya is not that popular a chartered cargo-plane.
To contract the AN-225 costs at least $1 million. Normally, it operates about 20 flights per year, and even if the number might increase slightly due to the corona-crisis, its clientele is limited.
“(Mriya) was designed specifically for transporting Burans, not humanitarian cargo. Basically, for space. This was something the Soviet Union could afford,” Donets commented.
“Most importantly, nearly 35 percent of (the world’s) airports can’t provide landing space (for Mriya). Because of its dimensions and wingspan, it doesn’t fit runway strips… We will not recoup the costs,” the Antonov CEO continued.
Abandoned in 1994
The Soviet leadership originally ordered the two Mriyas for the alternate transportation of the Buran (“Blizzard”) space rocket and its components. The project, which began in the 1980s, resulted in one airworthy AN-225, which took flight in 1988. The other, with a slightly different airframe, was abandoned in 1994 due to a lack of funding and interest.
Construction on the partially built Mriya was restarted briefly in 2009, bringing it to its current level of completion. The Antonov company has previously stated it would be interested in completing the airframe, provided the proper investment. In 2016, reports emerged on the potential involvement of the Airspace Industry Corporation of China, but they apparently backed out due to the enormous costs.
Simple Flying has reached out to Antonov for a direct comment but was yet to receive a reply at the time of publication.
Have you ever seen the AN-225 up close? Do you think Antonov should complete the second airframe? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.