Ansat-M to get a billion

Russia’s Ministry of Industry and Trade has allocated a billion to modify a helicopter with a longer range

The Russian Ministry of Industry and Trade has invited a tender for a contractor to design the next stage of modernisation of Ansat-M lightweight helicopter. But the helicopter won’t be manufactured from scratch: a test sample hit the sky on the eve of New Year. A billion rubles from the federal budget has been allocated for the programme to improve its performance. The winner will be named on 5 February, but there isn’t seen stiff competition for it. Kazan Helicopters will expectedly become the contractor. As Realnoe Vremya has found out, after the large-scale modernisation, Ansat-M is due to outperform its European adversaries with its range of flights, but it is still a big question if the helicopter will remain in the middle price bracket — to 250 million rubles.

Ansat air ambulance wants to fly further

Russia’s Ministry of Industry and Trade has approved Ansat-M lightweight helicopter’s modernisation programme. A record sum of a billion rubles is allocated for these purposes from the Russian budget, the tender’s documentation reads. The big investments are explained by the fact that Russian Helicopters don’t have another lightweight aircraft. In its basic version, the aircraft had a short range from a perspective of patrolling — up to 505 km giving way to imported European helicopters of this class. But Kazan Helicopters’s aircraft was produced en masse as air ambulance precisely in this modification.

Nearly three years ago, Russian Helicopters launched it after obtaining a certification of the Russian Federal Air Transport Agency. However, the Russian helicopter engineering industry anyway didn’t have an alternative: only Kazan Helicopters manufactured a lightweight helicopter, to 3-4 tonnes, this is why it was doomed to become a “flying hospital”.

According to market players, Kazan Helicopters has manufactured around 30 Ansat helicopters in the last two years, the majority of them is used as air ambulance.

“Over more than two years of development of the service, Ansat has recommended itself as a reliable and functional air ambulance helicopter,” noted Director General of Russian Helicopter Systems Alexey Zaytsev whose company became one of the leading operators of air ambulance (it has 17 Ansat air ambulance helicopters).

Other helicopters were produced as VIP cabins for top officials of business companies to quickly travel across the country.

Pre-New Year exam in the sky

But if the short range turned out to be sufficient for air ambulance, Ansat’s further commercial promotion in foreign markets stalled precisely for this reason.

“What is Ansat today? It is a corporate VIP cabin and air ambulance. The aircraft has just entered the market. Of course, its functions are limited. It is necessary to add features for search and rescue operations, fire fighting to this. It is necessary to occupy these niches,” thinks teacher of the Zhukovsky Academy Yevgeny Matveyev.

Understanding this disadvantage, Kazan Helicopters presented a modernisation project of Ansat-M at a helicopter forum in Tyumen as early as in November 2019. Delivering a speech there, Kazan Helicopter’s Chief Engineering Alexey Garipov said the range would increase from 505 to 604 km, while the take-off weight would grow to 3,800 kg because of the possibility of lifting more payload aboard.

The first test sample of Ansat-M with the claimed characteristics took off less than a month ago — on 29 December 2020 and covered 800 km, Realnoe Vremya was told by the press service of Kazan Helicopters. There is now no doubt that it is necessary to improve all engineering documentation to re-launch the production.

Beyond compare

As Realnoe Vremya was told in the press service of Russia’s Ministry of Industry and Trade, Ansat’s approved modernisation programme is aimed to improve a set of characteristics.

“We have already created a new version of the aircraft named Ansat-M,” our newspaper was told in the federal ministry. “This modification took off for the first time on 29 December last year. 230 million rubles were spent on the development. The expanded range from 505 to 800 km and the possibility of flying with zero visibility are among the advantages compared to the basic model. Ansat has also become lighter and more manoeuvrable.”

Applications for the tender are accepted until 1 February, while the name of the winner will be named on 5 February. Subdivisions of Director General of Concern Radio-Electronic Technologies Nikolay Kolesov claimed that they stood tuned for the project but weren’t going to participate in the tender.

The contractor won’t have to design the aircraft from scratch, the company will just have to create documentation for a test batch of Ansat-M and certify it.

In other words, Ansat-M is developed as a north polar vehicle with an expanded range of flights. As head of Russian Helicopters Andrey Boginsky said, Polar Airlines will become the first client of the modernised version of helicopters. The company will get seven helicopters with medical modules from 2021. According to the documentation, the programme will be financed for three years — until 2023. But the Ministry of Industry and Trade hopes that the certification will end two years earlier, in 2021.

One H125 for 8 million rubles flies in Tatarstan

Lightweight helicopters remain a more popular aircraft in the aviation market. “The demand for leasing lightweight helicopters in the country increased by 20% (to 3 tonnes) compared to 2019,” a representative of URALHELICOM, a dealer of Robinson, Airbus и Rolls-Royce (RR300), noted in a talk with Realnoe Vremya.

According to the interlocutor, R44 (from $0,5m) and H66 by Airbus Helicopters (from $0,8m), which are purchased for flights of enterprises’ officials are still the sales leaders: “R66 (from $0,5m) is popular in Tatarstan, but there are more expensive models, for instance, H125, it costs from €2,5m”. Importers of foreign machinery keep an eye on the development of Ansat, as it is the only Russian aircraft in this class.

“Why is it interesting? Firstly, because of its price because its price is incomparable with the price for foreign analogues. H135 and H145 are its closest rivals, but their price is from €6-8m. Ansat has a big future, it certainly needs to develop if it starts to be used,” the representative of URALHELICOM firmly claimed.

No future with a short range

“Ansat needs modernisation like air,” Director General of ChkalAvia LLC Alexandr Churochkin agrees. “It has a short range of flights, this is why it can’t perform a lot of tasks. Plus, the external load needs to be done, the anti-icing system, so that it will fly normally.”

According to him, the transformations claimed in the design bureau are a consequence of the expansion of the range by adding fuel tanks. “It is automatically necessary to increase the take-off weight along with the rise in the weight due to fuel. It is a mandatory condition, otherwise, the helicopter won’t be able to take a doctor aboard. Why is the service ceiling lifted? Ansat will be offered for exports, while in some countries, it is necessary to fly at a high altitude.”

“India, China, the Philippines — they all have mountains everywhere. When a tender for purchasing helicopters is held, characteristics are indicated. When the European EC shows an altitude of 5,000km, while Ansat does 3,000, it already loses at the starting line,” Churochkin noted.

On the other hand, after the modernisation, Ansat’s price tag will inevitably have to be raised. Now it varies from 220 million to 300 million rubles. “There has been no way back yet when money was invested in modernisation, while the aircraft became cheaper. This doesn’t happen in nature. The same Mi-8 helicopters went up in price after modernisation,” the expert claimed.

“Not how much Ansat will cost is the question but how much it will cost in service,” teacher of the Zhukovsky Academy Yevgeny Matveyev reasonably noticed. “Not only its characteristics should improve, operational characteristics, the price of an hour of flight should reduce at the same time. These two tasks have to be performed at the same time.”

After the large-scale modernisation ends, Ansat-M is due to outperform its European adversaries with its range of flights, but it is a big question if the aircraft will remain the middle price bracket — to 250 million rubles.

By Luiza Ignatyeva