Please start with this story for background. Now discount that the source somewhat as it is RT, a Russian State news source, that has an axe to grind with anything Ukrainian.
While one is entitled to one’s own opinion, one is not entitled one’s own facts. Antonov has done deals with Iran and Saudi Arabia. And what do we see? Not much. Another sign of the times is the AN-124 program. The certification for the aircraft is in Antonov’s hands. But Antonov cannot update its own aircraft. Antonov does not seem to be able to replace old avionics and other features of the aircraft. Why? Because all of it is Russian. Which may be why China is finding the Ukraine market a place to pick up aerospace assets on the cheap, like Motor Sich. China is going to be the one to build the next AN-225.
There are two operators of the AN-124 – Ukraine’s Antonov Airlines and Volga Dnepr from Russia. The Russians sent one of their AN-124s to Marshall Aerospace in the UK a year ago for work. No details have been published as to what was done. Marshall’s have a great reputation for aerospace work. This underscores Russia’s limits working on the AN-124, just like the Ukrainians. So it goes for a Soviet project that outlasted its political creation.
In a conversation just over a year ago with an Antonov executive, we were told how the company needed to find work. Antonov, at that time, had 14,000 employees and they had virtually no work. Aerospace technical skills are getting harder to find, and the Antonov opportunity might have been an excellent place to locate a Western FAL. But there were compelling reasons for Western companies to remain wary of doing business in the Ukraine.
As China draws IP out of the Ukraine, talent is likely to follow. The Ukraine’s dated, but useful, aerospace talent pool will be hollowed out – the best and brightest being the first to go. There is a precedent. The rump Yugoslavia lost its aerospace talent pool as that country broke up. Today there is a cadre of ex-Yugoslav talent working in the aerospace industry, from Boeing to Gulfstream. No doubt at several other places as well. Once the IP and talent moves, it does not come back.
So, back to the RT story. The fact that a Ukraine member of parliament is going public about the crisis at Antonov is quite something. That Russia grabs this information to rub salt in the wound does not fool anyone in aerospace. Russia’s own commercial aerospace industry had to undergo a shotgun marriage to survive.
Antonov looks like it may be slowing grinding to a halt. Which is a pity because it has a great heritage and its aircraft are known to be among the most robust. Look at the old Antonov’s still flying all over Africa, in tough conditions.