Heavylift / Breakbulk
Aircraft arrive by air
Sometimes aircraft also need to be transported somewhere, which is always worth seeing given the size and weight of the freight (see ITJ 31-34 / 2014, Special, page 21). The moment of excitement is increased further if a bigger aircraft is involved as the transport means chosen for such a challenging undertaking.
Russia’s Volga-Dnepr Airlines recently transported the fuselage, tail and wings of a regional aircraft of the Sukhoi super-jet 100 type. Its flight from the city of Komsomolsk-on-Amur, in the eastern Siberian region of Khabarovsk, to Zhukovsky, approximately 35 km southeast of Moscow, was carried out in an Antonov An-124-100.
The cargo consisted of individual components of a version of the Russian aircraft with an extended range and state-of-the-art on-board technology. The freight, which weighed in at a total of 33 t, was loaded and unloaded using the Antonov’s own cranes and auxiliary equipment.
In Zhukovsky, this version of the super-jet will be subjected to longevity tests, whose successful completion is required to confirm the possibility of using the fuselage structure for up to 70,000 flight hours and 54,000 cycles.
It was not the first time that the heavylift specialist became involved in this Russian aircraft project, because six years ago, in November 2008, to be precise, one of its Antonov An-124 freighters transported an SSJ100 fuselage from Komsomolsk-on-Amur to Novosibirsk, in central Siberia.
In the meantime, a joint venture between Volga-Dnepr and Antonov Airlines (Ukraine) involved the same large-capacity freighter, of which it operates 17 units, for the transport of a newly-made helicopter from Europe to Africa. The broker Karpels Flight Services, which is part of the DB Schenker Group, had chartered the aircraft.
Weather affects technology
The shipper, the aviation company Agusta- Westland, initially transported the AW101-type helicopter from its plant in Yeovil, approximately 65 km south of Bristol, to London Stansted airport. There the technicians of the manufacturer disassembled their aircraft, which is nearly 23 m long, 4.5 m wide (including the main rotor which is 18.6 m in diameter) and 4.1 m high (including the tail rotor 6.7 m), and stored the parts temporarily in a transport-compliant manner in a hangar.
A similar procedure was carried out a year earlier, when weather impact prompted the logisticians to position the aircraft partly in the hangar, in order to protect the fragile consignment in the severe conditions.
To prepare the freight for placement in the Antonov transporter in a way suitable for the large load, a specially-made holder was developed. Even then the cargo, which had a height of 4.4 m, only just fit through the opened nose of the aircraft. It was a matter of centimetres. With the additional auxiliary equipment, which was provided by AgustaWestland and which was returned by Ruslan International once the job had been completed, as well as the individual parts, the load weighed in at 60 t.
At the destination in Nigeria, the helicopter was unloaded again, using the An-124’s on-board winches and cranes. In addition, Ruslan provided an external crane, in collaboration with the Volga-Dnepr engineering and logistics centre, in order to support AgustaWestland during the three days of assembling the rotary-wing aircraft.
In recent years, Ruslan International has transported similar aircraft (see ITJ 19-20 / 2014, Special, page 69). «For this project, with its considerable size, its high value and its urgency, there was no practicable alternative to the An-124,» explained Ruslan’s commercial head Paul Bingley.
More heavylift projects
The European aircraft manufacturer Airbus, by contrast, has been successful in finding an alternative to its ageing in-house freighter, the Beluga (see also ITJ 39-40 / 2014, Special, page 5). The fleet, which has so far consisted of five specially made freighters with a huge nose-loading ramp designed on the basis of the A300, is to be expanded by five new wale-like units from 2019.
By 2025, the new aircraft are scheduled to replace their predecessors entirely. Their basis is the larger and more technically advanced A330. Instead of a new development from scratch, numerous individual parts can be adopted from this wide-bodied unit. The loading bay structure, steering gear and tail are to be entirely re-designed, however.
The existing Belugas were used for the group’s internal shipment of oversized aircraft components. They are 56 m long and have room for up to 47 t of payload in their loading bays, which cover 1,400 cbm.
Now that A350 production is being ramped up – the new model’s first customer Qatar Airways will take delivery of the long-expected first model in Toulouse on 13 December – the aircraft manufacturer needs greater capacities, and faster and cheaper than the development of an entirely new special freight aircraft would have allowed.
Further breeding of the white wale
With its Fly 10000 programme Airbus aims to double the current Beluga capacity to an annual 10,000 hours of service. The Europeans kept silent about the cost of the project as well as about the details of the planned capacity of the flexible large-scale freighters.
However, what is certain is that the new additions will continue to be solely used to connect the European production sites in future, despite their likely longer range. For transport to the future final assembly line in Mobile AL and to the Chinese plant in Tianjin, which celebrated its 200th production on 3 December, aircraft will continue to be transported by ship.