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Ukraine plane maker turns West with Boeing tie-up

KIEV (Reuters) - Ukrainian plane maker Antonov, known for producing the world’s biggest aircraft, plans to restart serial production by the end of next year thanks to a deal with Boeing that will end Antonov’s dependence on Russia. Relations between Ukraine and Russia collapsed following the annexation of Crimea in 2014 and Antonov, which imported more than 60 percent of its plane parts from Russia, halted serial production two years later. It now plans to build eight planes a year thanks to a deal with Aviall, Boeing’s parts, equipment and services unit, with the first two or three planes ready by the end of 2019, Antonov chief Oleksandr Donets told Reuters in an interview. He gave no details on future customers. Antonov’s main sales markets have been Russia, the former Soviet republics and Africa. The companies will jointly set up storage facilities in Ukraine by November, he said. “(The agreement with) Aviall has given us two gains. We are setting up a joint warehouse, located on Ukrainian territory in (the city of) Gostomel,” Donets said. “This warehouse will deal with products, materials, metals, non-metals - with all the components which we are not able to get from our former partner, the Russian Federation.” The warehouse could cost tens of millions of dollars, Donets added, to be funded by Aviall.

Antonov was founded in 1946 and has manufactured some 30 different types of airplane including the two biggest air cargo planes - the An-124 Ruslan and An-225 Mriya.

Mriya, built in 1988 for the Soviet space shuttle program is still the world’s largest and heaviest plane which is able to carry a cargo of up to 250 tonnes.

Ukraine’s leaders are pushing the country on a pro-Western course, aspiring to join the European Union and NATO while cutting trade and diplomatic ties with Russia and weaning itself off dependence on Moscow in sectors like defense and energy. Ukraine no longer imports any gas directly from Russia and in July completed another milestone as, for the first time, a unit at one of its nuclear power plants was fully loaded with fuel from U.S. firm Westinghouse rather than from Russia. Aviall will support Antonov’s new manufacturing program to build the AN-1X8 planes and will have exclusive rights to help service the planes, Donets said, envisaging that Aviall will source parts from the United States, Canada, Israel and Europe. Antonov also wants Aviall to procure equipment for Antonov to produce more parts domestically, he said.

Boeing rival Airbus also made a recent foray into Ukraine, announcing an agreement in July to sell 55 helicopters to the interior ministry for search and rescue, public services and emergency medical service missions.

Writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Alexandra Hudson