NATO has extended, for two years,
its leasing arrangement for two Russian/Ukrainian An-124 transports (full time)
and another four on call as needed. These aircraft are leased from a Ukrainian
firm. When the An-124 was developed, in the 1980s, much of the work was done in
Ukraine (which was then part of the Soviet Union, which dissolved in 1991). Production
is now split between Russia and Ukraine, and both countries operate the
to fly it's two An-124s 1,500 hours each in 2009, as well as booking over a
thousand hours on the four other An-124s it has access to. NATO uses the aircraft
to support peacekeeping operations in Africa and Afghanistan.
Russia has a
major success on its hands with the An-124 cargo aircraft. Designed at the end
of the Cold War, only sixty were built. But the market for aircraft that can
carry oversize cargo has grown twice as fast as the air cargo market in
general. The An-124, and the U.S. Air Force C-5, are the only two transports
that can handle oversize material. And the An-124 is the only "jumbo"
available for charter. So production of the An-124 will be resumed. Another
fifty, or more, aircraft are to be built, starting in 2009. The last one was
completed in 2004. The new An-124s will cost about $150 million each.
Currently, about 40 An-124s are in service, 26 with civilian airlines.
The An-124 is the world's largest production
aircraft and can carry a payload of 120 tons. The An-124 cruises at a speed of
around 800 to 850 kilometers per hour, it can carry a maximum payload around
4,500 kilometers, or carry less cargo, and more fuel, for up to 16,500
kilometers. There are around 40 An-124s doing commercial work, with another
twenty in military service
In the late 1980s, a modification of the
An-124, the slightly larger An-225, was built. With two extra engines and a
larger wing, the An-225 can carry over 250 tons. A second An-225 was being built
when the Cold War ended. Construction was halted, but demand for An-124s has
been so strong, that the second An-225 taken out of storage and is being
completed. New An-225s would cost close to $200 million each. These are a
bargain compared to the $225 million cost of a new American C-17 cargo
aircraft. The C-17 also only carries around 79 tons of cargo. If sales of the
new An-124 take off, more An-225s may be available as well.