1st Vice President of Antonov: The world has not yet produced anything better than Ruslan and Mriya
Oleksandr Kotsyuba in an exclusive interview with UNIAN explained why Ukraine no longer produces aircraft by a "Soviet" scheme, why Antonov design bureau withdrew from cooperation with Russia and what opportunities our country can offer to the market in the segment of commercial and civilian air transportation.
The State-owned Antonov aircraft manufacturer opens a new chapter in its glorious history. A new team of managers which strengthened the company a year ago is changing the production policy. Today, Antonov is betting on new projects, young engineers, and ambitious marketers who are ready not only to talk about the Ukrainian aviation industry and its potential, but also to actually sell the Ukrainian aircraft.
It is symbolic that the Antonov’s staff chose to have a new say with renewed vigor, using their most powerful "argument." In early May, the world’s largest aircraft An-225 Mriya took off from Antonov’s home base, airfield Hostomel near Kyiv, to Europe, then making a wide leap to Asia and Australia. Major media outlets were closely following the Queen of Skies on route while every landing was welcomed by tens of thousands of locals. In Australia, more than 50,000 people drove to Perth airport to witness a special guest’s arrival. Antonov’s First Vice President Oleksandr Kotsyuba has told UNIAN what this extraordinary flight means for the company and what plans lie ahead if the state-owned enterprise.
For the third week in a row, our Mriya has been making top news around the world. The plane was solemnly welcomed in Europe, then Asia, Australia and the Middle East. Definitely, Antonov is on top agenda today...
Mriya is an indisputable aviation "star," "Queen of skies." That’s how our plane was dubbed by the Australians. I won’t lie if I state that it is greeted warmly and enthusiastically in all the airports across the world. For Antonov, Mriya is at the same time the embodiment of our glorious past and our great future in aircraft manufacturing. Now, on the eve of the significant date, the 70th anniversary of Antonov, the hype surrounding her flight to Australia once again reminded the world that the potential has not been lost, that our wings are strong and we are able to amaze and surprise the world with our success.
So, is Ukraine finally changing the strategy of its presence in the aviation market beginning the "aggressive marketing," as Ukroboronprom’s CEO Roman Romanov announced recently?
Aircraft manufacturing is the area of national interests of any state. Previously, we were only executors of Soviet state orders. Accordingly, the role of marketing was performed by the State, and we did not need to think about the number of aircraft the Soviet Union sells abroad, and to what customers. Now the situation has changed. We know how to make good, competitive aircraft. It is necessary to ensure effective promotion. That is what we are doing now.
For me, the least we can do within the concept of "aggressive marketing" is pure popularization of our company. Mriya has given us a great impetus.
Is Antonov ready to make use of this impetus and satisfy the interest of investors? What are you willing to offer the world and specific customers?
We can offer the customers a transport aircraft with a capacity between 2.5 tonnes to 250 tonnes, regional passenger aircraft in the niche of up to 100 seats, and special purpose planes. Among the innovations is our An-132, a light cargo plane, a very promising aircraft that we are creating along with partners from Saudi Arabia.
An-178 cargo aircraft is now undergoing flight tests, and in its niche has virtually no competitors. Speaking of commerce, An-178 is generally a unique plane. She has all the characteristics of Antonov aircraft - simplicity in operation, service, and the ability to take off and land on unprepared airfields.
Besides, An-178 and An-132 are both Antonov-made aircraft but equipped with western avionics and engines from global giant Pratt & Whitney Canada.
Was it a deliberate choice to quit decades-long cooperation with Russia?
The company is going through a critical period. We will no longer build planes by a "Soviet" scheme. This is not only due to geopolitical factors, but also the economic ones. It is more feasible to build new aircraft with upgraded “guts,” with new partners who have wider product offers and a service network. A year ago, we launched the process of import diversification of components we once purchased from Russia, changing them to the Ukrainian-made western products. Today, this work is 80% complete.
The problem is not in just, say, changing a toggle switch. We need to change everything and integrate it with the rest of the airplane systems, make the necessary changes in the documentation, test and certify it. This is not easy, but it’s our conscious decision. We refused to cooperate with Russia, and reoriented to work with other countries. And we should have long done it.
And what about mass production of An-132 and An-178? Will you be able to set it up quickly and effectively?
Yes, the new aircraft will be manufactured in a series. Along with the construction of an An-132 demonstrator and test flights of An-178, we have been preparing for mass manufacturing.
The current situation is unique as our aircraft will be different – equipped with new engines, new modern avionics, but structurally they will be real Antonov aircraft with all their features and quality that have been highly acclaimed across the world for 70 years.
Can we say that Antonov has overcome the crisis of 2013-2014, when nothing was being manufactured? What are the financial and operational indices you can post today?
Perhaps “crisis” is not the right word. If we pay attention to what's going on in the aircraft market in general, I would not call our situation a crisis. The plant never halted operations and never stopped manufacturing planes, even in the most difficult times for the country. Salaries were paid, production was maintained, and orders were received.
Take Russia… Only the Sukhoi bureau remains afloat, and that’s only due to the military contracts. Despite all obstacles, we have managed to keep the entire intellectual potential, about 13,000 people still work at the plant.
Undoubtedly, the company saw better times. But this day is full of both complexities and opportunities. With the proper attention of the state, we have every opportunity to promote our product.
Does your company face reorganization or staff optimization?
Businessmen often say: “If you don’t know what to do, grab a calculator.” Global restructuring is not expected. We are loaded, we have a leader appointed, there’s a team of key managers for different directions of our business, we understand that company needs and where we need to focus our main effort. The decisions on reorganization will be made based on this.
Ahead of the May holidays, Antonov and Ukroboronprom signed several important memorandums with the Indian company Reliance ADA Group to participate in the tender for the production and sale of 200 civilian aircraft for India. At what stage is this project today?
Our cooperation with India dates back to the 1970s when Indira Gandhi’s government purchased over 100 An-32’s. These aircraft have been operating in India ever since.
With Reliance Defence Ltd. We have signed memorandums on cooperation in providing for the tender the projects of An-148 and An-158 passenger planes. The tender will be held by an Indian corporation Hindustan Aeronautics Limited. They are interested in the production of passenger aircraft, and in the future – of cargo planes (here we can offer our An-178). Our strong side is the planes with different functions on a single platform. The distribution will be determined by an agreement between the parties.
When is the tender expected to be held?
The procedures will begin this summer.
Reliance ADA Group was also interested in our military cargo planes. In particular, they admired An-178...
Yes, this is true. But at the moment, we are talking about cooperation on the An 148/158 program. In the future, we will also discuss An-178.
At the same time, I’d also like to remind you of a well-known fact that the sale of aircraft is traditionally the business of presidents. Why? Because the plane is an expensive, high-tech product, this means broad international cooperation. The conclusion of the contract is a project that involves the use of various financial instruments; it is a long negotiation process. To sell the plane, you need to take certain steps - sign memorandums, letters of intent, harmonize technical specifications, and only then you come to the conclusion of contracts.
In other words, Antonov needs state support...
We are already feeling this support. It is clear that today, the main resources are used to help the army. However, at the state level, there is an understanding that the aviation industry should be maintained and developed. The president of Ukraine flies on our An-148. This aircraft is part of the Presidential Squadron and is being used rather actively.
We are working closely with the Ministry of Defense on the modernization of the military aircraft and forming orders for new aircraft.
Today, Antonov is actively restoring its transport aircraft, which for years has stood idle. Is this your new word in using the transport capacity of your company, the second breath of Antonov Airlines?
Our planes are not idle – they work. We constantly upgrade and maintain airworthiness of aircraft of Antonov Airlines. Restoration of the legendary An-22 Antey, the world's first wide-body aircraft, is dictated by the request of commercial transport market. There is a real demand for this aircraft, and it is going to stand in line next to An-124 Ruslan and An-225 Mriya.
How high is the demand for the services of Antonov Airlines in air transportation?
We were and still are the world leaders in the transportation of super heavy and oversized cargo. No wonder the motto of our airline is "No one can carry more."
It can be anything when you want to carry cargo in containers or pallets, but when it comes to the transport of tanks, helicopters, cars, turbines, generators - this is only An's. For example, Mriya has delivered to Australia a generator weighing 130 tonnes. No other air carrier would tackle this challenge.
That is, Boeing and Airbus with their cargo planes Dreamlifter and Beluga are not your competitors, are they?
No, they have never been our competitors. In the segment of heavy and oversized cargo we have no equals. And that is an objective statement. The features that were laid in the design of Ruslan and Mriya have not yet been surpassed by anyone. So many years have passed, but no one has made anything better.
How do you see Antonov in five years?
I see a company as a mass manufacturer of modern aircraft of the family of An-148/An-158, An-178, and An-132.
Is An-70 project included in this list?
An-70 is a unique aircraft; that’s our pride. She is in many ways superior to its competitors, including the European A400M. It is recognized by many international experts. An-70 must be mass manufactured. The aircraft are adopted by the Ukrainian armed forces – Antonov’s legendary “Seventy” is yet to show its skills!
In July, you plan to visit London’s Farnborough Air Show, and you'll bring along your An-178. What do you plan to bring back from the UK?
The whole aviation world is focused on the participants of such airshows as Farnborough (UK) and Le Bourget (France). This is no exaggeration. As soon as the British announced participation and demo flights of An-178, we already saw a new wave of interest in our aircraft. Participation in exhibitions of such level is another important element in our marketing plan and sales concept. The world is already familiar with the An-178, so we are expecting to sign specific deals at Farnborough. We remain very optimistic.
Olesia Safronova (UNIAN)