The Siberian Aeronautical Research Institute, named after S. A. Chaplygin (SibNIA), believes its TVS-2MS turboprop conversion of the classic Antonov An-2 piston airliner could prolong the life of the venerable aircraft into a ninth decade, with Africa a strong potential market for the modernised aeroplane.
Speaking to Routesonline on the sidelines of the Routes Africa Strategy Summit, Mikhail Gordin, director of innovation and international projects at the Russian National Research Center, highlighted how the aircraft is now getting a new lease of life in Russia, but this could extend to other global markets.
“We often talk about point-to-point and regional to hub feed, but the SibNIA TVS-2MS truly offers a field to airport offer to the market and when we say field we do not just mean small rural airfields, it can freely operate from grass strips with its excellent short-field performance,” he said.
Originally designed by Oleg Antonov Design Bureau, the An-2 made its first flight back in August 1947 from Novosibirsk in Siberia. More than 18,000 aircraft were manufactured before production ended in 1971, although licence assembly did continue both in China and Poland.
The adaptability of the airframe meant the aircraft proved popular across a range of mission requirements and alongside scheduled airline services was regularly used as a utility transport for passengers and cargo, for general aviation use, light cargo and courier work and crop dusting. There remains an active fleet of around 200-300 units in Russia with around 1,200 more available for refurbishment.
“The design bureau saw an opportunity at the start of the decade to bring modern engineering to what has proved a popular aircraft,” explained Oleg Parfentyev, adviser to the chairman of Siberian Aeronautical Research Institute for aviation projects, noting that this airframe life extension was the "quickest route to meeting existing demand" for a new light utility aircraft for Russia's regional air operators.
While maintaining the efficient short take-off and landing performance and high loading and lifting capacity of the An-2, the replacement of its former gasoline piston engine with a Honeywell ТРЕ-331-12 turboprop means it can make use of standard jet fuel, boost fuel efficiency ten percent and base time between overhauls.
However, perhaps more importantly for operational performance it means the type has the ability to operate more efficiently at higher levels with a cruising altitude of 4000m and a speed of 210 km/h.
“We see a strong opportunity for this aircraft in Africa,” said Gordin. “It can transport between 9 and 12 passengers right where they want to fly. It could easily transfer tourists to a game park in East Africa and fly alongside Mount Kilimanjaro’s peak, but can be quickly adapted for cargo activities.”
The TVS-2MS made its first flight on September 6, 2011 and a Russian Interstate Aviation Committee certification was secured just under four years later on September 1, 2015. “This is now a completely new aircraft that can compete attractively with competitors in its class,” added Parfentyev
The aircraft is now being flown by an independent airline out of Arkhangelsk in the north of European Russia and this is hoped to be the first step to showcasing the performance of the aircraft in commercial service.
The performance of the TVS-2MS is understood to be favourable to other competitors in its class such as the Let 410, Cessna Caravan, Supervan 900 and the P2012, but what does differ is the price tag with the fully converted aircraft available at around $1.2 million.
“Although Russia is obviously our core market, we see potential elsewhere in the globe, especially Africa where the aircraft will be able to fly under its RA- registration and licence,” said Parfentyev.
The Siberian Aeronautical Research Institute has already produced 22 aircraft of which eight are now in operation and have accrued a flight time of more than 5,000 hours. It holds a preliminary orderbook of 28 aircraft and currently has a number of modified aircraft ready for placement with new customers. With a 2.5 month production cycle including plane body refurbishment and new engine installation it has the capacity to convert 80 aircraft a year should it secure interest.
The TVS-2MS is being followed by the TVS-2DT, a fully composite biplane that made its public debut at last year’s MAKS air show in Moscow. The demonstrator performed its maiden flight from SibNIA’s Yeltsovka airfield in Novosibirsk in December 2014 and is a further advancement on the re-engined TVS-2MS.