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Goliath of the skies takes wing again

Russian President, Dmitry Medvedev, has relaunched production of the world’s largest airplane - the An-124 - with key industry players saying it's heavy lifting capacity is demand.

Dmitry Medvedev toured the giant An-124. 36 metres long, it holds a quarter more than U.S. rival the Lockheed C-5. Funding woes stopped production in 1996. Russia’s President said if they don’t bring back production, other countries will take its place.

“There’s a market niche for new large cargo transporters. If we don’t seize this opportunity, others will.”

124s have been used to transport locomotives, aircraft and consumer goods as well as elephants and whales. The plane’s producers say they can save companies money. It is being marketed as a solution for the modern, just-in-time economy. Where other planes have to make several round trips, the new An-124 will carry 150 tonnes, or some 53 family cars, in one journey.

Most heavy goods go by sea. Aleksey Isaikin, President of Volga-Dnepr, the world’s top heavy cargo transporter, which owns 10 124s, says they work out much faster and cheaper.

“BP used our 124s to ship oil rigs to a deposit in Colombia. They say it worked out tens of times cheaper than by boat. But we desperately need new planes to fill demand.”

With an estimated price tag of $200 million per plane, Aleksey Fedorov, President of the United Aircraft Corporation, says the government should get a good return on its investment.

“We will manufacture 70 new 124s in the first phase. That will require investment by the government of half a billion dollars.”

Manufacturers promise the new model will be better than before, with modern aviation electronics and improved performance. Production is expected to start next year.