Reliable workhorse: that’s how experts describe Antonov-32, the military aircraft which went missing over the Bay of Bengal on Friday.
The Antonov-32 is a Russian-origin aircraft that has been in service with the Indian Air Force since 1984. Its design is based on the older AN-26, which first flew in 1969. About 250 AN-32s are in service around the world.
The IAF was the first foreign customer to buy the An-32 because of the strong defence relations between India and the erstwhile Soviet Union. India has, over the years, bought 125 of the turboprop military transport aircraft and a little more than 105 are still in service.
India’s AN-32 fleet is currently being upgraded and modernised with advanced avionics, communications systems, landing aids, new oxygen systems and better seats. The upgrade was aimed at extending the aircraft’s service life by 15 years to 40 years.
A contract was signed with Ukraine’s state-owned arms trading agency to refurbish India’s AN-32s by 2017, but the project has run into problems because of the conflict in that country. The fighting in Ukraine also affected the supply of spares that were to be used to upgrade some 65 aircraft in India.
The AN-32, which can carry 40 to 50 passengers or 7.5 tonnes of cargo, is usually considered a reliable aircraft despite the absence of creature comforts.
The IAF has lost a handful of AN-32s in accidents, the most serious being the crash of one of the aircraft near Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport in March 1999 that killed all 18 people on board and four more on the ground.
In March 1986, one of the first AN-32s being delivered to the IAF from the Soviet Union disappeared over the Indian Ocean and no trace was found of the aircraft or the seven people on board.
In June 2009, an An-32 aircraft with 13 people on board crashed while flying from Mechukha in Arunachal Pradesh to Jorhat in Assam. The IAF decided to upgrade the aircraft soon after this crash.