Ukraine’s President publicly stated that the country will secure the necessary funding to build a second Antonov An-225, as a priority.
With Russia’s war with Ukraine still ongoing, it may seem strange to be discussing a cargo aircraft. But of course, the Antonov An-225 isn’t just any freighter. Even back in the days of the Soviet Union, Ukraine boasted a healthy and productive aircraft design and manufacturing industry. And to many in Ukraine, this aircraft is the symbol of what this industry represents – and perhaps the whole country.
Alas, as we’ve seen, one of the earliest features of this war was the battle for Gostomel Airport (UKKM). This is the base of Antonov Airlines, and the An-225 “Mriya” (dream, in Ukrainian) was one of the war’s earliest losses. But as we’ve also seen, Antonov also has a second incomplete An-225, at a different facility, closer to the city of Kiyv.
The Second An-225 – A Bit Different?
This facility (Antonov’s main factory) also got bombed later in the war. But the incomplete second An-225 reportedly survived. Antonov has been working on this aircraft, on and off, for the last three decades. It is reportedly a slightly different specification from the original. But some of the differences between the two have to do with it better fulfilling the role of a freighter.
That’s because being a freighter is not exactly what the first plane was built for. Or to be more precise, its role was to ferry specific items: the Soviet Buran space shuttle and other elements of the Energia rocket. The collapse of the Soviet Union ended these plans. It took a while for the An-225 to find a second role, but its capabilities were obvious for all to see.
But after the destruction of the original An-225, focusing on the second one seemed premature. Antonov, the company, belongs to Ukroboronprom, a state-owned enterprise. Funding this aircraft now would be out of the question when the country and its people are suffering. But the aircraft clearly has enough significance to the country’s people, as their President recently commented on the matter.
In an online discussion, President Zelensky said that the country’s leadership had tried to re-ignite interest in the second Antonov An-225. He revealed that the present estimate for such a project is $800 million. President Zelensky stated that discussions with Turkey (before Russia’s invasion) did not bear any fruit.
The Memory Of Heroes
But crucially, the President seems to suggest that the war and the loss of the first An-225 increased the chances of completing the second. Zelensky said:
“But in this case, it’s not a matter of money, it’s a matter of ambition. We were approached by Ukroboronprom, the Antonov team. This is a question of the image of our country and all the excellent professional pilots who died in this war.”
President Zelensky made a special mention to those who fought for Mariupol, and suggested that completing the second An-225 would be an ideal tribute to those “Heroic people”. He said:
“How much they have done, and today we can already say how many lives of people who remained in Mariupol, especially in Azovstal they saved… How many pilots gave their lives to bring everything there, from weapons to water. And how many wounded they took from there. A large number of these people died heroically… To build a MRIYA for the sake of the memory of heroes is the right state position.”
The Role of the Second Antonov An-225
Because of the war, Antonov Airlines has changed its base from Gostomel to Leipzig Airport (EDDP) in Germany. Leipzig is a major air cargo hub and a service centre for multiple airlines. Antonov managed to evacuate five An-124 aircraft there, before the Russian invasion. The fact that the airline didn’t evacuate the An-225 itself is part of a controversy, as we’ve seen.
The utility of a second Antonov An-225 is a matter of some debate. In comparison with other large aircraft, the six-engined beast has relatively few roles where it makes financial sense. But arguably, when it DOES make sense, nothing else will do. The Mriya’s party trick was that it could carry things that are simply impossible for anything else to move. This includes 150-ton generators, which would be a nightmare to move even by train.
This is how Antonov used the original Mriya. The airline kept it on the ground, until moving it made sense. And perhaps this is a clue about how the state-owned company could finance the second An-225. As a commercial investment, the new aircraft would make few promises for a quick financial benefit.
Even with the right funding, the aircraft will face many obstacles before it can become operational. It will likely need many western components, to replace Russian-built parts. And then it will need certification, as a new type. But as a matter of national pride, the support for such a project, both public and financial, could well make it a reality.