The Russian Air Force is preparing to sell off its entire fleet of giant An-124 heavy cargo aircraft. Given the NATO-U.S. code name Condor, the Antonov An-124 aircraft is slightly larger than the U.S. Air Force C-5 Galaxy transports. There are 21 of the An-124s available for commercial sale.
The An-124-100M-150 model is capable of transporting single or multiple items of cargo weighing up to 150 metric tons (330,000 pounds) including such outsize items as construction vehicles and missiles. The An-124, for example, is the only aircraft that can carry the Boeing 777’s new GE90 engines.
The civil An-124–100 was certified in 1992, and meets all civil standards including ICAO Stage/Chapter III noise limits and modern navigational equipment requirements. From a commercial viewpoint, the efficiency of the An-124 can be seen by its ability to carry roughly twice the cargo of a U.S. C-17 Globemaster at a significantly lower operating cost per aircraft. The An-124 has more than 14 years experience of intensive, global commercial operations.
The major problem with Russian commercial aircraft in the past has been the poor after-sales support in comparison with Western manufacturers. The Antonov organization is developing a support capability similar to those of Western aviation firms and an Antonov support facility was recently opened in Leipzig, Germany.
Aviation industry sources indicate that Russian Minister of Defense Anatoly Serdyukov has offered four An-124s for sale in the near-term, with the remainder to follow before the end of 2007.
The Russian Air Force ceased flying its 21 An-124s in December 2005 and the aircraft have been grounded since that time. Currently, NATO leases six other Russian and Ukrainian An-124–100 cargo aircraft under an arrangement known as the Strategic Airlift Interim Solution (SALIS).
In the future NATO will use C-17 cargo aircraft to help relieve its severe airlift shortage.