10 March 2015
AN-70 was in the air when aircraft designers did not even start to draw their first draft of how Airbus A400M should be composed. AN-70 marveled aviation experts and the public with its unique flying characteristics. The airplane was not only the product of a Ukrainian-Russian cooperation but specifically tailored to the requirements of the Russian Ministry of Defence. It had a short landing and take off range, fuel-efficient, cruising speed: 750 km/h, payload: 20 tons for a distance of 6,000 km and cargo section with appropriate technical characteristics. Similar parameters were considering during the design and production of A400M except for the maximum payload. The Russian military required AN-70 to carry the weight equivalent of one T-90A battle tank (46,5 tons) or T-80UD (46 tons). The airplane's max payload became 47 tons, while A400M can carry just 37 tons. That was one of the reasons why AN-70 is equipped with more powerful D-27 engines in contrast to TP-400-D6 on A400M. In March 2015, Russia's Ministry of Defence had officially announced that it drops AN-70 from the state rearmament program, terminating the 37-years-old history of collaboration between Russia and Ukraine. Perhaps that was the moment when Antonov vs Airbus competition finished. AN-70 signed a "amicable agreement" with A400M. The AN-70 version with Russian avionics, landing gears and propellers became history.
Despite minor differences, A400M and AN-70 are remarkably similar in terms of their use. They occupy the same market niche and designed to transport the same kind of equipment. The last decade has been spent on negotiations, searches for the production plant in Russia and debates whether such an aircraft is necessary. Unfortunately, the industrial cooperation failed to succeed. The main goal of this concept is to integrate AN-70 project in the European aerospace complex in the shortest terms.
The modifications include new propulsion, avionics and chassis, which could be done in 2-2.5 years for about €170-190m. The program has good chances to be implemented since it is based on the developed solutions.
The divide with Russia on the AN-70 project created a number of scenarios for the future development of the airplane. Currently the popular notion is to create a joint production with Iran, which is likely to take place on HESA aircraft plant based in Isfahan (Ukraine’s Antonov State Enterprise has an experience of organizing production of AN-140 and AN-140-100 there). Several of the specialized media wrote that the engines on AN-70 could be changed to Snecma's (France) and GE Aviation (US) CMF-56. But such a solution is feasible only if the West lifts sanctions against Iran.
Such an airplane would revitalize the commercial value of the whole project as a new civil transport aircraft stripped off from its outdated military capabilities like short take off and landing range and record-high fuel efficiency. Our alternative concept is based on the win-win component. AN-70 integrates into A400M, outsourcing ready-made solutions. Hence, the engines on the Ukrainian plane change to ТР-400 Europrop International (EU) with FH385 / FH386 Ratier - Figeac (EU) propellers, as well as gets avionics from Thales & Diehl Avionik Systeme (EU) and landing gears by Safran Group (EU). The new plane may have a lesser payload to the level of A400M, however, this factor will only get AN-70 Next Generation closer to A400M. The European countries would be able to use such a plane without losing any technical or flying qualities. The new approach would provide opportunities to return to the AN-7X project that was envisaged as a Future Large Aircraft for NATO member-states in late 1990s. AN-70 Next Generation could become an attractive product for countries in Eastern Europe, Latin America and Southeast Asia on somewhat lower prices than A400M: €90-100m vs €152m respectively. On the other hand, European producers would be interested in promoting AN-70 Next Generation given that their share of hardware components may reach 60-70%.