Could there be some way for the damaged Antonov An-225 to return to commercial service? And if so, what would such a repair/rebuild involve?
With Gostomel airport now back in Ukrainian hands, it is time for the Antonov company to assess the damage at the site. In addition to journalists, there are engineers now looking closely at the damaged aircraft, including the An-225 ‘Mriya (Dream)’. As we have seen before, practically all aircraft at the airport have at the very least some shrapnel and/or small-arms fire. But some aircraft have fared much worse.
Antonov is a state-owned company in Ukraine. So Ukraine’s government will have to prioritise the needs of its people, before looking at the company. But discussions about the possible return of the Antonov An-225 to flying status are inevitable, even in Ukraine itself. The aircraft is a symbol of this country and has been since before its rebirth as a freighter.
Caught In A War Zone
As we have seen, there has been some controversy around why the plane was there during the invasion. It appears that the company had received warnings from NATO, that Russia would attack the airport. Gostomel would have been a good staging area for Russian forces, to bring in more troops and attack Kyiv, the capital. This could have made a quick win for the Russians possible if they had managed to eliminate Ukraine’s government.
The Russian plan didn’t work. Even though Russian forces eventually captured the airport, they never managed to land big troop transport planes in it. But upon their return, Ukraine’s forces found the site, including the Antonov An-225, destroyed. We saw an early tour of the base that Dmytro Antonov made, showing all the destruction. Dmytro Antonov is the An-225’s chief pilot.
So the Mriya was never an objective for the Russians. It simply happened to get caught in the middle of a full-scale invasion. So, could we see a return of the Antonov An-225? As far as the existing operational aircraft goes, engineers at the site say the answer is ‘No’. It appears that the plane got a direct hit from either an artillery shell or a rocket strike, on its front side.
The aircraft also got more damage from shrapnel elsewhere in the fuselage. But had it not been for the hit at its front end, it may have survived. But some argue that Russian forces on the ground damaged other planes, before leaving. In any case, we have already seen how Antonov could return the An-225 to service, in a different way.
Antonov An-225 – A Return Or Replacement?
This is about the second An-225 fuselage, that the company never finished. As we’ve seen, the Soviet Union originally wanted two of these giants, to transport the Buran orbiter and elements of the Energia rocket. But that space program wound down quickly, and authorities cancelled plans for the second plane. But Antonov would regularly return to this An-225 fuselage, working on it further.
According to sources in Ukraine, the second plane is 70% complete. In addition to the fuselage and the centre wing section, the rest of the wings have also been completed. But the biggest challenge may well be the aircraft’s systems. Some opined that it could be possible to “return” parts of the destroyed An-225 to service if Antonov uses them in the second aircraft. But it’s not that simple. Firstly, the second aircraft is not exactly the same as the first.
Secondly, a lot of the plane’s key systems, including some that are no longer available, were in the destroyed section. The manufacturer would need to build the aircraft with many new systems, possibly from western sources. A return of an Antonov An-225 to the skies would therefore involve the certification of a new aircraft. And this would require more time – and money.
Antonov, The An-225 And A Return To Operations
Before the war, Antonov estimated that completing the second An-225 would require $250-350 million. It is unclear if this includes the cost to recertify the aircraft. Certification isn’t a simple process. Many don’t realize that in the post-Soviet era, the return of the Antonov An-225 to service had to wait until 2001. That’s when the first plane got its certification, as a commercial freighter.
I hope the second partially build AN-225 air-frame is still in one piece, could be useful… pic.twitter.com/CI9z7ff22i
— DutchSpace (@DutchSpace) February 27, 2022
In any case, the existence of the second Antonov An-225 means that a return of the first one to service makes little sense. Andrii Sovenko, a former engineer with the Antonov company, said:
“It’s impossible to talk about the repair or restoration of this aircraft – we can only talk about the construction of another Mriya, using individual components that can be salvaged from the wreckage and combining them with those that were, back in the 1980s, intended for the construction of a second aircraft.”
Sovenko also explained the need to source new systems. And crucially, he added that the second An-225 has survived the artillery bombardment of the Antonov factory, last month. So, could it actually happen? The previous Antonov management announced a “crowdfunding” initiative, of sorts. It’s unclear if that remains in place.
But in the circumstances, it hardly matters. By all accounts, such a process could take several years. And that’s after the dust has settled and after Ukraine addresses many other urgent needs. Also, Antonov would first have to return its factory and other installations to working order, before tackling the second An-225. That rebuild alone could cost more than this aircraft.
Spyros Georgilidakis has degrees in Business Enterprise and Management. He has 14 years of experience in the hospitality and travel industries, along with a passion for all-things-aviation and travel logistics. He is also an experienced writer and editor for on-line publications, and a licensed professional drone pilot.