Air Transportation: Gambling With Substitution

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January 4, 2019: Because of its undeclared war with Ukraine Russia was, soon after fighting began in 2014, forced to halt manufacture of its new Ukrainian designed An-140 twin turboprop military transports. In 2015 Russia returned to a similar but less successful design, the Il-112 and ordered the manufacturer (Ilyushin) to upgrade their Il-112 design to the Il-112B and basically make it a somewhat improved An-140. Like the original Il-112, those changes took longer than expected. An acceptable prototype was finally delivered and tested at the end of 2018 and will begin production in 2019.

Back in 2011, the Russian military canceled its order for the Il-112 because of continued and expensive development delays and instead switched to the existing (in production) An-140 commercial transport. Initially, the Russian Air Force ordered seven militarized An-140s from Ukraine and liked what they got. In 2012 Russia ordered twenty more military versions of the An-140, to be built in Russia using a lot of Ukrainian made components. Since it was introduced in 2002, the An-140 has been mainly used as a civilian aircraft (it can carry 32-52 passengers). The An-140s sold to Russia in 2011 were modified for military use by adding some additional equipment and features (sturdier landing gear, more electronics, configured to carry cargo). The civilian version sells for about $9 million each, but a militarized version could increase the price to about $12 million. This is about half the price of a similar Western aircraft. That economy came at a cost, as five of the 28 An-140s delivered by 2014 had crashed. However, two of those were An-140s built under license in Iran. By the end of 2017, only 35 An-140s had been built and ten were in storage because of the crashes and Ukraine had budget problems because of the continuing war with Russia.

The 19 ton An-140 has a range of 1,300 kilometers and a cruise speed of 460 kilometers an hour. The military version could carry about five tons of cargo. In 2015 there were about fifty An-140s ordered or delivered but some of those orders were subsequently canceled. Initially, Russia bought An-140s, in part, to improve diplomatic and economic relations with Ukraine. Since Russia went to war with Ukraine in early 2014 a growing number of Russian manufacturing operations have had to shut down because they can no longer import components from Ukraine. This was an aftereffect of the 70 years of communist rule in Russia and Ukraine. During this time the economies of Ukraine and Russia became very intertwined. Russia seized control of Ukraine in the 17th century and Ukrainians considered that conquest, not a merger and had no problem severing economic ties with Russia if Russia was at fault. Ukraine was the source of a lot of complex manufactured goods and when those resources were no longer available it proved time-consuming and expensive to find substitutes.

The 21 ton Il-112B was designed as a military transport, as a replacement for the elderly An-26. The Il-112B can carry five tons up to 1,200 kilometers. Alternatively, it can carry 3.5 tons 2,800 kilometers. Cruising speed is 450-500 kilometers an hour. Max altitude is 7,600 meters (24,900 feet) and it has a larger internal cargo/passenger space than the An-140. It remains to be seen if the Il-112B is any better than the An-140 in terms of capabilities and reliability.

 


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