The Antonov AN-225, the world’s largest cargo plane, whose only remaining unit was recently destroyed in the war in Ukraine

By Fernando Cavalcanti*

In the wake of the outrageous news that the Ukrainian aircraft manufacturer Antonov would have canceled an alleged investment of US$50 billion (R$249 billion) in the state of São Paulo due to statements by President Lula regarding the war, it is necessary to note some issues .

In the overwhelming desire to publish quickly and to believe what the sources said, apparently no one on the CNN network went to check the information to see if they were correct or if they at least made any sense.

In a country like Ukraine, where the GDP (Gross Domestic Product) is US$ 200 billion, which is in the middle of a war and which spends its saucer, all over the world, every day in search of donations to sustain its efforts to war, it sounds highly unlikely that a state-owned company would have the capacity to invest $50 billion, or a quarter of the country’s GDP, abroad.

This amount is also greater than the Brazilian sum of Direct Investments in the Country (IDP) in 2020 and 2021, which were US$ 38 billion and US$ 46.4 billion, respectively. In 2022, the IDP registered its highest value in ten years, reaching US$ 90 billion, adding all foreign investments in the country. If the investment announced by CNN were real, Brazil would end 2023 with international contributions never seen in national history.

In addition, one must check the information that is available to any reporter about the financial health and industrial capacity of the Antonov Company.

a glorious past

Antonov was an aviation powerhouse in Soviet times, when it designed and produced a number of legendary aircraft, including the AN-124 and AN-225, two giants of heavy transport, as well as medium and light transport aircraft such as the AN-2, a biplane aircraft with fixed landing gear, with a conventional piston engine, which made its first flight in 1947 and continues to fly until today, including in Brazil. Or the AN-12, the Soviet equivalent of the famous North American Hercules, widely used in the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

The AN-2 biplane plane: Antonov’s 1947 project that continues to fly in Brazil (credit: Divulgation/Antonov)
The Antonov AN-12, the “Soviet Hercules” (credit: publicity)

But the real fame came with the heavy and super-heavy transport planes that formed the backbone of the Soviet Union’s strategic transport aviation. Starting with the AN-22, the world’s largest turboprop heavy transport aircraft, which made its international debut at the Paris Air Show in 1965 and flies in both Russia and Ukraine to this day. It carries up to 80 tons of cargo.

Then came the AN-124, which revolutionized the transport of heavy loads in the world, when it became accessible to commercial aviation. Originally designed as a super-heavy military transport, after the dissolution of the Soviet Union it moved to carry civilian cargo and became the go-to aircraft for super-sized cargo such as a submarine or even another aircraft. It can carry up to 120 tons of cargo.

The Antonov AN-124, capable of carrying submarines and planes, receives its heavy load (credit: disclosure)

And, of course, the AN-225, the largest aircraft in the world (in terms of cargo capacity), propelled by six Progress D-18T turbofan engines, with 229.5 kN of thrust each, which carried up to 250 tons and of which only one unit has been completed. This legendary plane, whose image is reproduced at the top of this article, was unfortunately recently destroyed in the battle at Hostomel airport, in Ukraine.

See all Antonov planes here.

The gift

Antonov is today a small company, much smaller than Embraer, with few products and almost no orders. The only part of the group doing well is Antonov Airlines, which specializes in transporting oversized cargo.

Its only aircraft currently in production is the AN-178. It is a medium freighter, with a capacity of around 18 tons, a direct competitor to the Embraer C390 Millenium.

The AN-178 had its only overseas order canceled in 2021. Peru had ordered a unit of the plane in 2019, but, amid a dispute over delivery and payment terms, the deal was scrapped.

Before starting to manufacture in 2019 the unit that would be sold to Peru, Antonov spent four years without manufacturing a single plane. In 2021, the Ukrainian state-owned company had revenue of just US$ 340 million, mainly from the maintenance of old planes and the production of spare parts. And in 2021, the company took out a $1 million loan to invest in its production. Internally, Antonov has three orders from the Ukrainian government itself, without any delivery so far.

With a shortage of money and orders, Antonov has tried several partnerships around the world in recent years, including one with China to resume production of the AN-225, another with India to license produce the AN-178 and another with Saudi Arabia to produce the AN-132 turboprop in that country. This last attempt at partnership advanced a little in the negotiations, but then, like the others, it did not reach any concrete results.

Thus, it is clear to anyone who understands the least about aviation, business, or even has some common sense, that this number that CNN released (later crediting the “information” to the state government of São Paulo) is completely fictitious, incompatible with the company’s investment capacity and even with the reality of the facts.

The communication company apologized for the imperfect work after being ridiculed with the fake news that he published, and blamed his sources not linked to Governor Tarcísio de Freitas (PL-SP) for the embarrassment he experienced. It now remains for the São Paulo government to explain its share of blame for the misinformation credited to it.

*Fernando Cavalcanti is a journalist, photographer, former pilot and passionate about aviation


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