Air Transportation: Military Jumbo Jets For Fast Sale

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August 15, 2007: Want to buy a bunch of heavy lifters dirt-cheap? Russia is offering 21 An-124s for sale. These belonged to the Russian Air Force, and are considered underutilized and too expensive to maintain. In essence, this fire sale can land someone a nice airlift fleet, or help someone who currently has one, to supplement it very cheap. The An-124 is about the size of a U.S. C-5B, has a range of 16,500 kilometers and can carry up to 122 tons. It cruises at 865 kilometers per hour. The Russians built 56 - with the last five airframes being completed earlier this decade.

This is one of the best heavy-lift aircraft in the world, with 30 percent more range carrying the maximum payload than a C-5B Galaxy. While the Airbus A380F can carry 30 tons more, and has and about twice the range, it is not exactly designed to carry a lot of military cargos, like tanks or armored fighting vehicles. The same is true of the 747-400F freighter. The C-5 and An-124 have ramps in the stern and bow, allowing a crew to just drive the vehicle in and then drive it out when they get to the destination.

The An-124 has carried a number of odd cargos. It was the plane used to ferry the EP-3 from Hainan Island after the 2001 crisis involving a collision with a Chinese J-8. It also was used to haul American helicopters to Afghanistan. It is also moved A380 and Boeing 777, while these aircraft were being built. In essence, if someone needs to haul about 150 tons, they usually turned to a leased An-124.

NATO has six of these aircraft leased to supplement the airlift fleets of its member nations. It is a good bargain - the AN-124 can carry twice the cargo for less money. However, Russian support in the past has been iffy, and the aircraft has had four crashes (out of a fleet of 56). Compare that to five C-5s lost out of a fleet of 131 aircraft, and no losses for the C-17 (with one surviving a SAM hit). With Antonov's efforts to develop support capabilities similar to those of Western aircraft manufacturers like Lockheed and Boeing, the 21 An-124s for sale will provide a boost to anyone looking for a credible airlift capability. Russia is selling four An-124s right away, apparently to see what the market will bear. The remaining 17 will be sold before the end of the year. A new An-124 would cost about $200 million. A smaller American C-17 costs about $225 million.- Harold C. Hutchison (haroldc.hutchison@gmail.com)

 


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