KIEV, April 18 (RIA Novosti) - Russia will stick with its original agreement with Ukraine to jointly build the Antonov An-70 propfan tactical transport aircraft, Russian Ambassador to Ukraine Mikhail Zurabov said on Thursday, despite tensions between the two sides over the project's progress.
“A far as I am aware, the issue has not been taken off the agenda. Russian Defense Ministry representatives are planning to visit the Antonov aircraft company and discuss details of the project with their [Ukrainian] colleagues,” Zurabov said.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov said on Friday Ukraine would continue with the An-70 project even if Russia withdraws from it. Azarov made his statement after Dmytro Kyva, president of the Ukrainian state aircraft company Antonov which designed the plane, said on Thursday his company had had to suspend An-70 development trials because the project’s chief partner, the Russian Defense Ministry, has suspended its participation in the test program.
Zurabov said the An-70 project is still of interest to Russia and has considerable promise. "It is a project into which the Ukrainian and Russian sides have made serious intellectual and financial inputs,” he said.
The An-70 is a medium-range transport plane intended to replace the ageing An-12 aircraft. The estimated price of one plane is about $67 million.
The project has had a long-running and troubled gestation over two decades, with one prototype crashing in a collision in the 1990s, and a second crash-landing in Omsk in 2001. It has also had a history of problems related to its propfan engines.
In 2002, Russia and Ukraine agreed on a 50-50 risk-sharing production deal, but Moscow withdrew from the project in 2006, only to rejoin the program in late 2009.
The Russian Air Force has already ordered 48 Ilyushin Il-76MD-90A tactical transport aircraft, but some analysts think it still also needs a smaller aircraft capable of using shorter runways in its transport fleet.