LE BOURGET, France — This year's Paris Air Show saw the debut of the Antonov 132, a light multipurpose transport aircraft that makers Ukraine and Saudi Arabia hope will capture new markets because of its low operating costs.
The plane is based on the bones of the Antonov 32, which has been in service by various smaller countries since the 1970s. Engineers at Antonov, in concert with the Saudi King Abdulaziz City of Science and Technology and the state-owned Taqnia Aeronautics research arm, completely rebuilt the plane in the past year and a half, preserving only the original cross section while putting an emphasis on composite materials.
At a per-copy cost of roughly $30 million and hourly operating costs of between $2,000 and $3,000, retired Taqnia CEO retired Maj. Gen. Ali Al-Ghamdi foresees favorable market prospects for the new plane. "We have been approached by so many countries," he told a small group of reporters following a tour of the aircraft on the tarmac here. Al-Ghamdi demurred when asked to name any clients, citing confidentiality of the negotiations.
The addition of well-known Western suppliers for components of the plane, including Honeywell and Pratt & Whitney, gives the aircraft a kind of international participation that was previously unthinkable in the secluded world of Ukranian aircraft making, Roman Romanov, general director of Ukroboronprom, said.
The An-132 is similar in size to the C-27J, made by Leonardo, and the C-295W, produced by Airbus. Featuring 9.2 tons of payload capacity, the plane is advertised for its high thrust-to-weight ratio, making it suitable for alpine terrains. Unlike some of its competitors, the plane can fly with just one engine operating at altitudes over 4,000m.
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The two-country partnership plans to produce 300 aircraft over the next 10 years for use by Saudi Arabia. Besides military application, the plane could see use by companies operating in the country's oil business, according to Al-Ghamdi.
One production site is planned for each of the two countries, with manufacturing slated to begin next year.
Sebastian Sprenger is Europe editor for Defense News, reporting on the state of the defense market in the region, and on U.S.-Europe cooperation and multinational investments in defense and global security. He previously served as managing editor for Defense News.