Air Transportation: October 16, 2004


Both China and South Africa are looking for transport aircraft to increase their strategic mobility. The Chinese armed forces (the People's Liberation Army, or  PLA) is in discussion with Ukraine to buy the huge  Antonov An-124 and An-225 freighters. The An-124 is the world's largest production aircraft and can carry a payload of 120 tons. Configured for military service, it can carry 448 troops or 268 paratroops. Only one An-225 has been built, but Ukraine is working on a second aircraft. It is capable of carrying a payload of over 250 tons and the single aircraft has been used to ferry commercial outsized cargos around the world. An An-124 is estimated to cost between $80 to $100 million per aircraft, while estimates to build an An-225 are around $160 million not cheap, but a bargain compared to the $226 million price tag of the U.S C-17 cargo plane. The C-17 also only carries around 79 tons of cargo or 102 paratroopers. 

Currently, the PLA has 10 IL-76 transport aircraft capable of carrying 140 troops or 125 paratroops. China would like to arrange a license-production agreement so they can ultimately build aircraft themselves. The PLA is looking for a way to better deploy its rapid reaction forces; a fleet of large transport aircraft would play a significant role in future conflicts with Taiwan. 

Meanwhile, South Africa has had to charter IL-76 transport aircraft to deploy and support its peacekeeping forces in Burundi and Congo. The South African Air Force (SAAF) wants to get out from the high bills in renting the Il-76 aircraft and buy an aircraft large enough to transport their Oryx transport and Rooivalk attack helicopters. Currently, the SAAF has a fleet of 12 aging C-130B aircraft for transport. It started flying the C-130Bs in 1963. 

Airbus is offering the A400M and would like the country to buy eight aircraft at $780 million, around $97.5 million per aircraft. It's cheaper than the estimate $127 million per plane European buyers expect to pay and Airbus will also "involve" South African industry in A400M production to offset costs. The A400M is a four jet engine aircraft capable of carrying around 120 troops or around 37 tons of payload and the first one is supposed to fly in 2008. Around 180 of the aircraft have been ordered by Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Spain, Turkey, and the United Kingdom. The A400M is capable of carrying around 32 tons of cargo while the newest version of the C-130J is only capable of hauling around 20 tons, but is cheaper at around $70 million a copy. Doug Mohney




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