Interview with the General Director of the Antonov Design Bureau:
- After the collapse of the USSR, and especially the last 7 years, the aviation industry is not in the best condition, but Antonov works even in such conditions. What is the situation at the enterprise now, what has been created for the thirtieth anniversary of Independence?
- I strongly disagree with this wording. The aircraft industry is the only industry that has not only preserved production, scientific and technical power, but is also working at full capacity today, without stopping for a day even during the coronavirus.
Another thing is that earlier aircraft were more actively produced and delivered to the foreign market, mainly to Russia. During the Soviet Union, the main activity of our company was the creation of medium and heavy military transport aircraft. Today we continue to work in this niche.
During the period of Independence, we have built a number of aircraft, including light multi-purpose An-38, An-3, regional passenger An-140, jet passenger An-148, An-158, on the basis of which a fundamentally new military transport An-178 was created. We continued to carry out modifications taking into account the import substitution of our An-124 Ruslan aircraft with a load capacity of 150 tons. Today, this aircraft is unsurpassed in the world. Even if America needs to transport some unique cargo, they order our "Ruslan", although they have a C-5A. We do not apply for long-haul passenger transportation, we do not compete with Airbus or Boeing in this segment. I want to emphasize once again that Antonov firmly occupies a niche of military transport aircraft.
- Is it true that Ruslans do not fly in Russia, because only Antonov can serve them?
- This is not quite true. In Russia, Ruslans fly and will fly, because they are made at the Ulyanovsk Aircraft Factory. Accordingly, the Russians have all the design documentation. A separate issue is that the conditions for maintaining airworthiness, safe development of the resource and service life are determined by the developer of the aircraft. In this case, it is the Antonov State Enterprise. Since it is the developer of the aircraft that has the necessary results of strength and fatigue calculations, test results, and operation data for the entire fleet of aircraft. Based on this information, which is continuously updated, the developer determines the necessary design improvements, additional inspections, replacement of parts and assemblies. In addition, the developer's participation in maintaining the airworthiness, resources and service life of aircraft is prescribed by ICAO documents and Aviation Regulations. About 2 thousand AN aircraft are currently flying around the world. We know the condition of each of them, including the Russian "Ruslans". But now, for well-known reasons, we do not extend their resources and service life, they do it themselves, and no aircraft is idle, but there is a certain risk in this, I would not do this in their place. The developer company should be responsible for the extension of the resource, maintenance in operation.
- Speaking about the cooperation with Russia that has come to naught: how are things going with import substitution?
- We have found analogues of almost all systems. These are components from the USA, Canada, France, Germany. However, we are trying to increase the share of Ukrainian-made components. After all, everyone understands that Antonov is a competitor, so they seem to help us, but in fact they are not very active: either there is no corresponding permission, or something else. There are also restrictions on deliveries for military aircraft. At one time, when the An-22 "Antey" took off, Oleg Antonov was asked if it was a civilian aircraft? Can it be used during military operations? In response, Oleg Konstantinovich gave the following example: during the war, a vodka bottle was filled with an incendiary mixture and German tanks were destroyed with it. So it is here: today a civilian aircraft, and tomorrow it can be used as a military one.
We made full import substitution on the first AN-178 aircraft. It is planned to conduct flight tests next year. As a manager, I assure you that the production of almost all components that we buy in the far and near abroad can eventually be established in Ukraine, because I know both the scientific, technical, and production capabilities of our enterprises. I will give a classic example: there is a world-famous enterprise "Hartron", which developed a control system for the "Buran", and it landed on Baikonur without a pilot with an accuracy of 2 meters on the axis, 1 meter to the side. So, Hartron can't develop a control system for our aircraft? Therefore, I gathered the heads of more than 30 enterprises in the areas of hydraulics, avionics, chassis, and other units and suggested starting joint work. I am convinced that in 3-5 years the Ukrainian aircraft industry will be provided with components of Ukrainian production.
- Can't we try to compete in the niche of medium-haul passenger aircraft?
- We can. Our An-148, An-158 are in no way inferior to competitors, for example, Bombardier and Embraer. Moreover, the An-148 proved to be excellent in Russia, at one time there was a production program of 32 aircraft per year, and the 148th flew with a flight of 400 hours per month, which is a lot. But for obvious reasons, the program is stopped. And it is more profitable for our air carriers to buy used Boeing. We have planes in the shop now without a complete set, take them, buy them, but no one needs it. We are looking for customers for these aircraft, but there is one "but": we have a certificate for the right to sell An-148 aircraft with a Russian configuration, but it is necessary to carry out import substitution, which means that a new certification procedure should be carried out. To certify an aircraft, regardless of whether it is An-2 or Mriya, you need to conduct 600-700 flights. Therefore, if we make import substitution for An-148, An-158, then we will start selling them in 3 years. We do not have a customer for these machines yet.
But we have found a niche that is practically free in the world. This is the creation of aircraft with a payload capacity of up to 16 tons, and this is our An-178. Last year, a contract was signed for 3 aircraft for the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine, which we are now successfully implementing. The work is in full swing with the expectation that the first plane will take off in the first half of 2022, and the second one by the end of the year.
The whole world knows what Antonov is, so Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and other countries have intentions to sign contracts for this type of aircraft. On the basis of the AN-178 platform, various modifications can be created, including options: fire-fighting, sanitary, marine patrol, long-range radar detection, jamming, electronic warfare. Therefore, I believe that the An-178 has taken place, and it has a great future ahead of it.
- Speaking about international cooperation, we have had joint projects with the same Saudi Arabia, Azerbaijan, Germany. What do you think is the reason that none of them ended positively?
- Mainly because of the political situation in these countries. For example, in Saudi Arabia, together with the ex-head of Antonov, Dmitry Kiva, I presented 5 types of our aircraft, they chose the An-32. On its basis, they were going to organize the production of an aircraft called the An-132. The only condition was to change the Ukrainian engines to Western ones. Unfortunately, our management made a tactical mistake: it was decided not only to redesign the aircraft and change the engines, but to change the control system and so on. The appearance of the aircraft has changed. To date, the government has changed in Saudi Arabia, they have started lobbying Airbus, and cooperation with us has been suspended for the time being.
However, already as CEO, I met with the Prince of Saudi Arabia. They are ready to resume work, because we already have the relevant experience, we know the weaknesses of the project, how to eliminate them, what to design and what kind of aircraft you need to get. If not this year, then at the beginning of next year we hope to sign a contract with Riyadh for the joint creation of such an aircraft, which will eventually be produced at an aircraft factory in Saudi Arabia. A place has already been allocated for this enterprise. I really believe in the new aircraft based on the An-132D aircraft: it will be in demand in Africa, South America, the Middle East, and Asia.
- And why did the cooperation with Azerbaijan fail?
- When Dmitry Semenovich Kiva was the general designer, we had negotiations with Azerbaijan on the purchase of the An-178, but at that time the aircraft had not yet passed flight tests and was not certified. From my point of view, a contract was signed very quickly for an aircraft that has not yet entered mass production. When Kiva left, we continued to build the aircraft according to the technical specifications of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine, and now this aircraft is already somewhat different from what was in the contract with Azerbaijan.
We have resumed negotiations with Baku. I say: let's sit down at the negotiating table and find out if the aircraft is suitable for you in the version that we are making for the Ministry of Defense, if so, we are ready to continue. But at one time there was a question to create a joint production in Azerbaijan. I am "for" with both hands, but this should be done in stages, gradually accumulating experience. For example, first to make certain details, eventually expanding their nomenclature... the Azerbaijani side has not yet responded to this. I think that in 2022, after the plane takes off for the Defense Ministry, we will come to an agreement with Azerbaijan. Everyone is waiting for the An-178 to take off. It meets all the requirements for safety, reliability, and, as I have already said, it is suitable for both high-altitude areas and hot countries…
- In addition to the production of large machines like the An-178, do you somehow cooperate with our private owners on smaller projects?
- Now we are starting to resume work on light aviation on the basis of An-28 and An-38 aircraft.One of the potential partners interested in the implementation of this program is the American company Legacy. Productive negotiations are underway with the Motor Sich company. They also offer an engine for an airplane. This makes it possible to expand the possible market for a new car. And I am sure that in the next 2-3 years you will see that such an aircraft will be created.
Everyone rushed into the niche of large planes, passenger or transport, or very small ones – 1-2 local ones, which, by the way, our former employee Yuri Yakovlev is also engaged in. But the plane of the dimension I'm talking about is not being manufactured now. Once such models were built in Poland, but production was stopped. Therefore, we will deal with such machines. I think that in 3 years you will see a beautiful aircraft based on the An-38.
- You remembered that Yakovlev makes small planes. Is this not a promising niche for Antonov ?
- Not for our company. Everyone should do their own thing.
- One of our private holdings, Metinvest, has created a university for its employees. Do I need to do something similar at Antonov?
- The fact is that a private university, apparently, borrowed the idea from us. Even under the Soviet Union, more than 45 years ago, a branch of the Department of the Kharkiv Aviation Institute was established on the basis of our enterprise. Now we have a full-time department of KHAI on the territory of the plant. Starting from the first year, we recruit students from Kiev, the region, and other regions. A hostel is provided for nonresidents, and classes are conducted by specialists of our company, who teach not only from books, but taking into account modern technologies, their enormous experience.
For example, our chief metallurgist Lavrenko reads materials science. If it is aerodynamics, then it is the leading aerodynamicist of our company and so on. That is, the training of young specialists is as close as possible to the real production. Students make course projects and theses on a real product. Moreover, we employ all of them after the fourth year. During the years of study, there is an adaptation, the student determines what he likes best: to be a designer, a technologist, or, maybe, to be engaged in aerodynamics.
In addition, we have sponsored Kiev schools No.96, 203, 83, where students undergo career guidance. There are children's health complexes "Antey" and "Sokol". There, the detachments are divided into crews, they even have a schedule made up on aviation topics, for example, a second breakfast — "refueling in the air", an afternoon nap - "flying on autopilot". Aviation clubs are working.
On the territory of "Antonov" there is a technical school that trains middle-level specialists, there are training centers where turners, locksmiths, millers are trained. Yes, I would like to see more people involved in aviation, but in our country today, economists, lawyers, financiers, managers enjoy great authority. Although, as experience shows, an engineer will be able to work as an economist, but on the contrary-I have not met this in practice. Here we should recall Nikolai Amosov, who graduated from KPI, was an engineer, then simultaneously became a cardiac surgeon and designed a heart valve, having an engineering education. It is very bad that little attention is paid in the state to vocational schools that taught working specialties. We are trying to train such specialists at the expense of internal reserves, so we are still coping.
In order to become a specialist in the aviation field, you need to have at least 5 years of work experience. For example, there is such a specialty as a locksmith-toolmaker-slipmaker. If you have not created a single slipway, no matter what books you have read, no matter what institutions you have graduated from, you will never do this. Aviation is a very complex field that requires not only theoretical knowledge, but also practical skills.
- What are the salaries at the enterprise, how many people do you employ?
- Today, together with engineers, there are about 10 thousand people. The average salary is about 19 thousand UAH. But a highly qualified specialist earns about 35 thousand rubles. We do not limit income, but for this you need to work conscientiously, fruitfully, with full dedication. I come to work at half past six, I go to the shop at half past eight-at the beginning of the working day, and some are already standing, drinking coffee... some people don't like me for what I demand. And I demand and will continue to demand discipline and order.
- How is the Antonov with the material base? As far as I remember, new machines were purchased during the Kiva…
- The production equipment has not been updated for a long time. Last year, from public money, there is such a program "Bezpeka", we were allocated 1,900 billion UAH for technical re-equipment. But, unfortunately, to date, we have not purchased a single machine because of the bureaucracy of the tender system, the main criterion for which is the low price of the product. Cheaper does not mean better. And we need a machine that allows us to make high-quality products.
Here is an example. We need a machine for making a landing gear. Our specialists have chosen the offer of a Spanish company, whose clients, by the way, are Boeing and Airbus. The weight of this machine is about 20-30 tons, the cost is such and such. In short, we are going to the tender. But the Italians also exhibit their own machine, there is also a Chinese version. But this is not the same at all, their bed bends! In general, I believe that in such areas as aircraft construction, rocket engineering, tank construction, it is impossible to apply the existing approach to conducting tenders. The responsibility for the safety and reliability of the product is ultimately borne by the General Designer. What kind of tenders?
The age of our machines is about 50 years or more. This, of course,is no good. Therefore, I hope that we will master the 1.9 billion UAH that were sent to the aviation industry with the assistance of President Vladimir Zelensky and will soon be able to show a whole workshop in which new equipment will be installed. The quality of the manufactured parts and the aircraft as a whole will depend on the quality of the equipment.
- Does Antonov cooperate with the structures of the Space Agency, the same Yuzhmash?
- Yes, we cooperate with the State Space Agency of Ukraine, including Yuzhmash. It is very lucky that the general director Sergey Voit works there, who has kept the capacity, and not squandered it, like some heads of other enterprises. We signed an initial contract with him for the production of the chassis for the An-178 aircraft, which was previously made by the Russian company Gidromash. We will receive the first set of chassis manufactured by Yuzhmash at the end of October.
In addition, negotiations were recently held with Yuzhmash specialists, and we agreed to manufacture other parts for our aircraft at the plant's facilities. Moreover, I see a great prospect in the fact that the Dnipro residents also make aggregates for aircraft. In other words, we have the support of the space agency and very warm cooperation.
- In addition to the three transport vehicles ordered by the Ministry of Defense, are there any other orders from the state?
- The State Emergency Services are interested in our planes. The Ministry of Internal Affairs wants to use them for the tasks of the National Guard… We are provided with pre-orders for the next 5-10 years.
- Are there any chances to revive production in volume before 2014?
I am sure that it will be so. Our company can quite realistically produce from 5-6 to 12 aircraft per year. If we show the whole world that there are planes, tomorrow there will be those who want to participate in the production within the framework of the cooperation scheme, and we will only do the final assembly and conduct flight tests.
- What role do the airlines that saved the Antonov company play now?
- Pyotr Balabuyev, who headed our company from 1984 to 2005, before the collapse of the Soviet Union, felt the need to provide sources of financing in addition to budget funds. When Mikhail Gorbachev was Secretary General, Pyotr Vasilyevich obtained permission to create an air transport unit. Today it is known in the world as Antonov Airlines, based in Gostomel. Our fleet consists of seven "Ruslans", "Mriya", An-22 "Antey", An-26, An-74T, which transport cargo around the world. We have a contract with NATO for the implementation of strategic transportation, which has been in force since 2006. The funds that the airline earns are used to support the current programs of the enterprise, to create a scientific and technical reserve for the future and the social sphere.
- Even during the Kiva, several houses were built for young employees of Antonov. Are there any housing programs or projects of such programs now?
- Indeed, two houses were built in Gostomel for young families of 80 or 90 one-room apartments equipped with furniture, refrigerators, televisions, washing machines. This is a service housing. Employees pay only utilities. The conditions are as follows: while you work at the enterprise, you live in an apartment, if you quit, you vacate the apartment.
We are interested in further solving the housing issue. We have previously signed memoranda with the Buchan and Gostomel administrations on the possibility of leasing purchases of 2-3 room apartments. When there will be, say, 100 such apartments for 2-3 rooms, we will move the increased families of our employees from Gostomel houses there, young specialists will take their place.
There is a social program. We want to take out a loan for 15 years in such a way that people who have received 2-3 room apartments will have the opportunity to pay off the mortgage within 15 years. We hope for the support of Ukroboronprom in this matter.
- Can the second "Mriya" be completed?
- You can. Another thing is that Mriya was created at one time as part of the space program, in particular, for the transportation and launch of Buran spacecraft. But since this project was closed, it was re-equipped and certified for commercial transport operations. Now we are working with the space agency to implement new space programs for launching rockets using the An-225. There is a second "Mriya" in the units, but in order to complete it, it takes 600-700 million dollars. An Australian billionaire came to us, he wanted to make swimming pools and fitness clubs on the plane. That is, it was proposed to use the "Mriya" as a flying entertainment center…
Our company is ready to complete the "Mriya". But for cargo transportation, it is not very economically profitable, it will not pay off, but for space projects-why not?