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21 Aug, 2009 10:19

New AN-148 plane: the unsung hero of MAKS 2009

Without fanfare, and minus the pomp surrounding the fighter display teams and the high-profile appearance of the Sukhoi superjet, a brand new Russian passenger plane made a modest public debut at the MAKS 2009 air show.

Hundreds of thousands of spectators are expected to visit the MAKS International Air Show during the next three days.

A spectacular feast of aviation awaits them, with a wide range of both military and civil aircraft to show off, including the famous Sukhoi superjet, fighter jet groups and helicopters.

The business end of the Moscow air show has finished and now it’s opened up to the general public. Over the next few days the demonstration flight schedules have been extended from the usual two to six hours.

The previous three days have been busy in terms of business deals. The Defense Ministry is seriously looking to upgrade the Russian Air Force and has managed to secure several deals with design bureaus and aircraft manufacturers.

As for the civil aviation market, the major deal struck at MAKS 2009 is a contract between Russia’s Ilyushin Finance Co. and Moscow’s Atlant-Soyuz Airlines over the lease of 15 TU-204 planes and 30 AN-148s, reported to be worth $1.2 billion. These aircraft were originally designed in Ukraine but following an agreement are produced in the Russian city of Voronezh.

Surrounded by show ponies, the workhorse of Russia's new generation of civil aircraft may not have wowed the uninitiated but did attract approving nods from those who understand its true purpose.

Designed for short haul domestic flights, the AN-148's technological advances equip it for life at the coalface. It was created with a view to flying grueling schedules to small hub airports with limited facilities.

And the factory in Voronezh in the southwest of Russia is pinning its hopes on the aircraft becoming a fly-away success. For nearly a hundred years plane building there has been a way of life and Voronezh remains a nerve centre for aviation design and manufacture.

“New innovations have been applied to the design of this particular plane. We are using a riveted construction system of modern composite materials. The wing and tail mechanisms are also new and designed to be tough and hard-wearing. All the electronic systems back one another up which makes the plane exceptionally safe,” says Anatoly Suponitsky, head of AN-148 project.

Founded in 1932, the manufacturing centre in Voronezh has long been associated with success in Russian aviation. Alongside the AN-148, they are currently producing a growing number of IL-96-400 transport planes which are designed for longer haul flights and can carry up to 436 passengers up to 10,000 km between fuel stops.

“We have our own foundry. There is a blacksmiths shop here. We do all the electricity works on our own. Throughout its life the plant has been producing aircraft equipment. These are our special qualities. We’ve managed to stand through the hard times and to maintain the highest standards,” says Yury Kuznetsov, head of the assembly division.

The planes produced in Voronezh are understated, reliable and likely to be in service for many years to come – and the successful premier of AN-148 at this year's MAKS session has been exactly the shot in the arm needed by producers in Voronezh in this time of global financial crisis.