Silk Way launches new freighter type with 10-unit order

First flight of the An-178.
First flight of the An-178.

Ukraine-based aircraft designer Antonov booked a firm order for ten An-178 freighters from Azerbaijan-based all-cargo carrier Silk Way Airlines.

The An-178, a twin-jet freighter based on Antonov’s 99-seat An-158 passenger aircraft, logged its first flight last week, and the Silk Way order, as well as a two-unit order from China’s Beijing A-Star Science & Technology Company, was signed as part of the ceremony celebrating the event.

In one respect, the smaller Chinese order may be more important than Silk Way’s much larger one, because in addition to the two freighters, the Antonov/A-Star agreement also covered “joint serial production of the An-178 in the PRC.”

Historically, Antonov has focused on aircraft design, leaving production of its aircraft to others – and those “others” were often Russian. Given the poisoned state of Ukraine/Russia relations, siting serial production of the new freighter outside of Russia is obviously important (to say nothing of the fact that some analysts believe the An-178 could fill a big gap in China’s military transport capabilities).

But, politics aside, what about the aircraft itself? What are its capabilities and what, if any, commercial applications does it have?

As mentioned above, it is based on the 99-seat An-158 variant of the An-148 passenger family, and will feature that aircraft’s modern avionics and Progress D-436-148FM jet engines. However, the -178 will be modified with a rear loading ramp, an upgraded wing, and the capability to land and take off from short and unpaved airstrips. Maximum payload is about 18 tonnes, with range at max payload of about 1,000 km (extending to about 4,000 km with a 10-tonne load). Operational ceiling will be 12,200 meters, and the cargo hold will be pressurized.

Antonov sees the An-178 as a competitor to the Alenia C-27J Spartan, EADS CASA C-295, Lockheed Martin C-130J, and Embraer KC-390 in the military realm. On the commercial side, Antonov says the An-178 will be a much-improved replacement for the aging quad-turboprop An-12, which has a similar payload, but more limited capabilities, an unpressurized cargo compartment, and vastly inferior operating economics.

So, the conversion houses busy cranking out 737 and 757 (and soon A320/321) P-to-F conversions don’t need to worry that DHL’s or FedEx’s next big regional freighter order will be for An-178s, but Antonov’s newest offering should find plenty of work in the project cargo market.


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