Tuesday, 18 January 2022

Sky Giant: Turkey Mulls To Complete The Second Antonov An-225 Mriya

By Stijn Mitzer
Out of all the aerospace collaborations currently discussed between Ukraine and Turkey, the possibility of completing the second An-225 Mriya, the world's largest cargo aircraft, is arguably the most fascinating. Turkey's interest in the An-225 was first reported in October 2020, when President Erdoğan raised the idea of completing the aircraft during a visit of Ukrainian President Zelensky to Ankara. [1] Although little has been heard of the plan since, Turkish involvement could mean a breakthrough in providing the stimulus and funds to finally complete the second An-225 and bringing it into service.
The idea of completing the second An-225 with the help of a foreign partner was first raised in 2011, when China voiced its interest to develop the aircraft into a platform to launch commercial satellites into orbit with. [2] [3] The first phase of the project would have seen the completion of the second airframe that is still stored at Antonov's facilities outside Kiev, Ukraine, while the second stage called for the recommencement of the An-225's production in China. High costs doomed these ambitious plans, and the project appears to have been quietly abandoned. [4] [5]

In 2021 it was announced that UkrOboronProm (the parent company of Antonov) is still looking for a foreign investor to help kickstart the project. Yuriy Husyev, the CEO of UkrOboronProm, stated that Ukraine ''is currently having active talks with several countries regarding the development of Ukrainian aircraft fleet''. It is no secret that one of the countries interested in the further development of a number of Ukrainian aircraft designs is Turkey, which has so far publicly showed interest in two Antonov products: The An-178 and An-188 military transport aircraft. [6] [7]
The first An-225 (UR-82060) made its maiden flight in December 1988 as a superheavy transporter for the Buran orbiter, which was carried on the plane’s back. Two aircraft were ordered, but only one example was finished before the collapse of the Soviet Union. Nowadays the An-225 remains the world's heaviest, largest (but not the widest) aircraft ever built, being capable of carrying nearly 250 tons of cargo. The sole Mriya is operated by Antonov Airlines, which operates a fleet of large cargo aircraft that also includes a number of An-124s. 

The sole completed An-225 was located in Ukraine at the time of the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 and thus fell under the jurisdiction of the newly independent republic. However, the aircraft was soon to lose its intended purpose of carrying the Buran orbiter following the cancellation of the (now Russian) Buran space programme in 1993. In 1994, the An-225 was placed in long-term storage at the Antonov Aircraft Plant in Kiev and work on the second An-225 airframe came to a grinding halt after having been 70% completed. [8]
By the late 1990s the need for a cargo aircraft as big as the An-225 began to re-emerge, and the stored example returned to active service in 2001. [8] Plans to complete the second An-225 began to surface around the same time, and a decision for its reactivation was made in 2006. [9] By late 2009, work on the aircraft still had not started and the plan appeared to have been abandoned. Then in May 2011, the CEO of Antonov stated that the completion of the second An-225 could be completed in three years if an interested party was to come up at least 300 million USD. [9]
In 2016, the Airspace Industry Corporation of China was allegedly ready to cover these costs before later losing interest. [5] China has long enjoyed the fruits of Ukraine's aviation industry. In the 1990s Ukraine sold two Su-33 and one Su-25UTG carrier-born aircraft to China, the extensive studying of which would eventually culminate in the creation of the J-15 carrier-based fighter. [10] More recently, China attempted to acquire a controlling stake in Motor Sich – one of the largest manufacturers of aircraft and helicopter engines in the world which's takeover was ultimately prevented after pressure by the United States. [11] 

While completing the second An-225 is certain to benefit international cargo travel of oversized items, the $300 million cost of completing the aircraft could mean it will never become truly profitable. This was affirmed by Oleksandr Donets, the current CEO of Antonov, who in 2019 stated that: ''This is a very expensive project. The cost of design and engineering work, the purchase of new equipment and certification of the aircraft will amount to hundreds of millions of dollars. Such a project may be effective in the aerospace program, but not for commercial air transportation." [12]
This raises the question as to why Turkey has shown interest in completing the second An-225. Rather than solely operating the aircraft as a commercial asset intended to make a handsome profit, Turkey could use the aircraft (perhaps through a joint venture with Antonov) to act as a symbol of status that is meant to signify Turkish power and prestige home and abroad. Turkey is emerging as an increasingly important actor in world politics, taking on an assertive international role and with it a growing political weight. The An-225 could deliver oversized items, humanitarian aid and other cargo all around the globe, reaffirming Turkey's status as an emerging great power.

The high costs associated with an aircraft the size of the An-225 has dissuaded Ukraine from ever completing the second Mriya. With a capital investment by China unlikely after the Motor Sich affair, another partner will have to be sought to finish the aircraft. This could be where Turkey comes in. Turkey is a rising power in international politics and has a proven track record of making difficult projects happen. Whether the benefits of operating the An-225 ultimately outweigh the costs of bringing the aircraft back to active service is up to the Turkish government to decide. Then, perhaps, the An-225 could wear the same livery as Turkey's presidential aircraft, acting as an ambassador and status symbol to show off power and influence throughout all corners of the world.

[1] Turkey interested in completing An-225 Mriya – Dpty PM https://en.interfax.com.ua/news/general/698799.html
[3] Chinese aero group eyes world’s largest plane https://asiatimes.com/2019/07/chinese-aero-group-eyes-worlds-largest-plane/
[4] Ukraine mulling to complete the second Antonov An-225 Mriya https://www.aerotime.aero/27146-second-an225-potential
[5] UkrOboronProm seeks investments to complete second Mriya aircraft https://www.kyivpost.com/ukraine-politics/ukroboronprom-seeks-investments-to-complete-second-mriya-aircraft.html
[10] Black Sea Hunters: Bayraktar TB2s Join The Ukrainian Navy https://www.oryxspioenkop.com/2021/08/black-sea-hunters-bayraktar-tb2s-in.html
[11] Pandora Papers: How A U.S. Law Firm Attemped To Sell A Defence Giant To China https://www.oryxspioenkop.com/2021/11/pandora-papers-how-us-law-firm-attemped.html
[12] Президент ГП "Антонов" Александр Донец: Мы должны вернуться к тому, что умеем делать очень хорошо – к грузовым, военным самолетам. Это у нас всегда получалось https://www.unian.net/economics/transport/10531239-prezident-gp-antonov-aleksandr-donec-my-dolzhny-vernutsya-k-tomu-chto-umeem-delat-ochen-horosho-k-gruzovym-voennym-samoletam-eto-u-nas-vsegda-poluchalos.html
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