Is the born-again AN-124 ready for reconstruction?
The only other alternative for the Russians, in seeking to offset new-build costs for the aircraft, would be to embrace a joint production program with a Western aircraft manufacturer. A project like this has been hinted at before, with talk of Boeing becoming involved in final assembly of the aircraft. But Russian build quality still has a ways to go to convince Western operators to grapple with such a beast as the AN-124, sources have said. Added to which, Boeing has its own potential heavy-lift contender with a possible commercial variant of the C-17, although its 80-tonne payload makes it a relative lightweight in the market.
Ultimately, questions are raised over the actual size and scale of the outsize market. “Realistically, around 75 percent of all project charters could be accommodated with an aircraft the size of a C-17, with only 25 percent requiring the capabilities of the AN-124,” said one charter broker.
To add to Russian woes, it would also appear that the Western market now views the comeback of the airship as a genuine prospect for the handling and movement of outsize loads.