Both are quad-jets, but the Antonovs can carry up to 150 t of payload and are much cheaper (\$100M for the An-124 compared to \$238M for the Boeing 747-400F).

I understand that MRO is quite an issue for Antonov, but we are talking about the freighting industry, which is less congested and less demanding than the commercial airliner industry.

Is the skepticism of buying a SSSR-era product really founded, or is there in the West a lobbying trying to maintain the Airbus-Boeing duopoly and keeping foreign products out?

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    $\begingroup$ I think it's less about skepticism than it is about actual cost to use. Sure, the actual unit price at purchase time is lower, but the An-124 is way more scarce, and if it were to serve the same demand as the 74F, the per-use cost would be astronomical. I'm quite sure the per-use cost is already way higher for the 124 anyway. That's without getting into the comparatively nonstandard gate configuration. $\endgroup$
    – 0xdd
    Aug 14 '19 at 14:30
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    $\begingroup$ if it served the same demand -- it can't. There are so many fewer 124s than 74Fs that it's not reasonable to draw a comparison, and since the 124 is best suited for specialized, oversize loads, Volga-Dniepr likely understands that it's a niche product in a seller's market. They charge as much as customers are willing to pay within competitive boundaries. $\endgroup$
    – 0xdd
    Aug 14 '19 at 14:46
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    $\begingroup$ It's interesting to note that Volga-Dnepr, the largest civil operator of the An-124, also operates the 747-400F as well as the 747-8F. $\endgroup$
    – fooot
    Aug 14 '19 at 15:19
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    $\begingroup$ Don't think this is an "opinion based" question at all. It isn't asking for our opinions; it should be possible to provide an entirely objective answer. That answer may discuss others' opinions, but "the 747 is widely perceived to be more reliable & sustainable" is an objective statement of fact. Even when that fact is about the perceptions -- a.k.a. opinions -- of industry decision-makers. "What's the best airliner" is opinion-based; this question is not. (imho) $\endgroup$
    – Ralph J
    Aug 14 '19 at 15:32
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    $\begingroup$ why is it a niche product -> because most people don't need to transport oversize cargo like that. There are standard cargo containers that go on planes and the 124 is explicitly designed for stuff that doesn't fit on those. Packing stuff into those standard containers or even onto pallets is on average more efficient than transporting, say, an unboxed tank or helicopter, which is more up the 124's alley. $\endgroup$
    – 0xdd
    Aug 14 '19 at 15:34

This won’t be a real great answer, just major hurdles off the top of my head for wider AN-124 service.

  • Much shorter range. At 80,000 kg the AN-124 gets 4500 nm. 747-400 has a range of 7670 nm. 1
  • 747 is slightly faster, cruising at .855 Mach
  • AN-124 is designed for a crew of 6; 747 has a crew of 3, or even 2 in the 747-8F
  • It would probably take Antonov a long time to catch up with Boeing’s production rates. 747-8’s are being produced about one a month. Back in the 70’s they were pumping out 80 or 90 of them per year.

I can’t find any numbers on fuel efficiency, but being that the Antonov was designed for military transport I would be very surprised if it could compete with the 747 in fuel usage.

1 I was not able to find good range numbers for the Antonov. It’s hard to really pin down the numbers on the 747 also due to the number of variants. The numbers here are taken from the Wikipedia page for each.

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    $\begingroup$ The 747-400 also has a crew of 2, just like the 747-8. $\endgroup$
    – Bianfable
    Aug 15 '19 at 6:31
  • $\begingroup$ This makes sense. The shorter range and a manufacturing plant unable to satisfy a substantial high demand are definitely real technical hurdles. $\endgroup$ Aug 15 '19 at 8:33
  • $\begingroup$ I think the estimated range for the An-124 in the answer is too high (imho). If we were to trust Volga-Dnepr's Cargo Calulator, it says that loading cars onto the plane, making a payload of 90 t leaves us with a range 4600 km. Moreover, transporting a payload of 35 t gives us a range of 8600 km, which is roughly 4500 nm. $\endgroup$ Aug 15 '19 at 9:10

The An-124 is not available new: Antonov stopped production in 2014. There are plans to restart production by the end of 2019.

Existing aircraft are owned by the Russian air force and by a few specialized freight companies. Neither are likely to sell their aircraft. So the An-124 is not available.

If you really wanted to buy An-124s, you'd have to restart the production line. In the past, Antonov tried to sell an An-124 version with Western avionics and engines, but the development cost required for those modifications was too high to make this an attractive offer.

Among Western companies, Russian aircraft are not popular. See the absence of Russian airliners in Western fleets. Antonov's attempt at a Westernized An-124 was intended to address Western mistrust in Russian engines and avionics.

The operating cost of an An-124 is probably higher than that of a B-747 (due to less efficient engines).

The extra internal volume might come in handy (IIRC cargo flights are often volume-limited) more than the extra payload capacity, but you'd have to find a way to utilize that volume using standard containers. You don't want to repack all your cargo if it flies one leg of its route with an An-124. Because much of the extra internal volume is in height, you might have to build a second floor, which complicates loading. And IDK if the cargo hold is high enough to fit 2 layers of containers.

  • $\begingroup$ You might want to check your sources about the collapse of Antonov. I believe that Antonov was taken over by state owned Ukroboronprom in 2015. No idea if they can still produce the An-124, but they do produce aircraft. ukroboronprom.com.ua/en/produktsiya-ta-poslugy/… $\endgroup$
    – bogl
    Aug 15 '19 at 13:28
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    $\begingroup$ I've amended my answer. $\endgroup$
    – Hobbes
    Aug 15 '19 at 14:01

The Antonov 124 does not accept the standard ULDs and is very time-consuming to load and onload. While the did have some form of pallets in the early days these were very heavy and added to the non-revenue weight.

The 747 freighter on the other hand will accept common commercial pallets/containers or commonly called ULDs (unit load device) and this cuts down tremendously on the loading time as well as the transloading of cargo. A 74F can fly from Singapore to Dubai with a full load of 29 (30 for 744F) maindeck and 9 lower deck ULDS and these can be offloaded in Dubai and loaded onto another aircraft without dismantling. This cuts down the handling time.

The AN-124 does have an in-plane handling system but its just an overhead crane where pieces of freight have to be hooked up and drawn into the plane. Its not a user friendly system and thats why Antonovs usually have their own loading crews. The 747F OTOH has a well-designed in-plane loading system which enables quick loading and offloading with minimal training required. The systems are also common on all planes so anyone anywhere can load and unload the plane easily.

The low-purchase price is probably out of date and pretty meaningless. Go try and buy one and see. The supply chain for parts is also abysmal. If the aircraft breaks and a part is needed it can take days.

The forte of the AN-124 is in handling outsize/heavy cargo, the floor is suitably strengthened from the design stage to handle these items. The 747 was designed from the get go to only handle ULDs. The cargo floors on these aircraft are only designed to take the weight on the aircraft frames, the floor panels are just composite fillers for the most part and in in fact Boeing left them out completely in the lower-deck holds, leaving the only the frame structure to support the pallets and some small pathways for the loaders.


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