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Russia to pull out of An-70 plane production

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ZARA (Moscow Region), April 7 (RIA Novosti) - Russia is withdrawing from a joint program with Ukraine to produce An-70 aircraft, the head of the country's air force said Friday.

"The continuation of this program makes no sense," Vladimir Mikhailov said, adding that Russia had better heavy-lift transport aircraft.

The An-70 program experienced a number of setbacks since it was launched in 1990, with major concerns focusing around the D-27 turbopropfan engines designed by Ukraine's Progress design bureau.

The first prototype was lost in a mid-air collision in 1995 and the second prototype crash-landed in January 2001 during a test flight near Omsk, Russia.

The estimated cost of the An-70 mass-production has been put at between $50-55 million and the Russian Defense Ministry originally ordered 15 planes, which have far superior payload capacities to the U.S. C-130 Hercules.

Some sources claimed that the Russian Air Force had always been the main opponent of the An-70. Mikhailov has been campaigning against the plane for a long time - blaming all problems on the D-27 engine - and proposing the Il-76MF as a more reliable and more affordable alternative at $28 million per plane.

In response to Mikhailov's announcement of Russia's withdrawal from the project, Ukrainian Minister of Industrial Policy Volodymyr Shandra said Ukraine had not received any official notification from Russia, but his country would continue with An-70's development while looking for partners in other countries, including in Europe.

Minister of Economics Arseniy Yatsenyuk said U.S. giant Boeing or Europe's Airbus could become Ukraine's partners in the An-70 project.

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