Ukraine's Antonov, France's Thales in talks on cargo plane project

( dpa )- Ukraine's aviation conglomerate Antonov was in talks with the French high-tech giant Thales Group on the joint development of a cargo plane, the Interfax news agency reported Tuesday.

The firms were discussing the "radical overhaul ... and modernization of the An-72," a company official was quoted as saying.

Antonov's An-72/4 is a twin-engine plane, initially built in the 1970s, with its jets distinctively mounted on a high wing. The aircraft is designed primarily for military use, and operations from unimproved airstrips.

Thales and Antonov engineers were developing plans for an updated version of the plane, with increased cockpit visibility, improved engines, modernized control systems, and advanced communications and avionics.

The changes would make the An-74 suitable for operations in Europe and North America, where the aircraft currently cannot fly because it exceeds the noise level permitted by law.

The plane as jointly produced by the two companies would expand its capacity from pure military cargo transport, to civilian cargo transport and maritime patrol, according to the report.

Were the project to go forward, it would be a substantial marketing advance for Antonov, which has failed to break into Europe's lucrative twin-engine market, and sells its airplanes only in Africa and the Middle East.

Main competitors of the An-72/4 on the international market are Italy's Alenia C-27J and Spain's CASA-295. Both aircraft are twin turboprops, and are widely used in European militaries.

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