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Yury Laskin

The Russian Northern Fleet is to receive a squadron of the most modern amphibious aircraft, the Be-200 ALTAIR, the Izvestia newspaper reported yesterday, citing sources in the Russian Ministry of Defence. The statement claims that the aircraft are to be used in both the regular emergency variant but also in a new anti-submarine version. The aircraft will be based at special facilities (termed hydro aerodrome) in the Arctic Circle at the settlement of Safonovo near Murmansk, for which the premises must be restored and renovated.

In July, the first Be-200ES (emergency version with fire-fighting capabilities) entered service with the Russian Black Sea Fleet and on 14th July, it was officially accepted by the 190 Mixed Training Aviation Regiment in the city of Yeisk, Krasnodarskiy Kray. The contract also includes two more Be-200ES aircraft to be delivered to Naval aviation by the end of 2020. In 2016-2018, TANTK (a United Aircraft Corporation subsidiary) built six Be-200ES (serial numbers 303 to 308) for the Russian Ministry of Emergencies (EMERCOM) under a contract from May 2011. Ahead of that, nine Be-200 aircraft were built – two flight prototypes at the TANTK facility (Be-200 in 1998 and Be-200ES in 2002) and seven serial Be-200ES at the Irkutsk Aviation Plant (commissioned from 2003 to 2011), of which six were supplied to EMERCOM and one to the Azerbaijan Emergencies Ministry. Thus, a total of 16 flying Be-200s were built.

ALTAIR Goes Global

The Be-200 has excellent characteristics as a fire-fighter in addition to working as a search and rescue aircraft, being the world’s only commercial amphibian aircraft with jet engines, with an airframe partially made from composites and anti-corrosion aluminum-lithium alloys. Its maximum flight altitude is 8,100m, maximum speed – 700km/h and the flight range is 3500km. It can fly from any fresh or sea water pools with a depth of 2.6m and the wave height up to 1.2m (3 points). The Be-200 is able to take-on 12 tons of water in 12-15 seconds while gliding which compared to a regular fire-fighting plane, means it can perform up to 10 times more pick-and-drop cycles. The Be-200 rescue version is able to carry 4 inflatable rafts and a mobile hospital while it has a number of international certificates to operate in different climates.

Since 2003, the ALTAIR has been used for fire-fighting all over Russia as well as in France, Portugal, Italy, Greece, Israel and Indonesia. This year, two Be-200s were hired by Turkey for four months to be on duty in the vicinity of Antalya, Izmir and Bodrum, while the Russian press reported that Turkey may buy a certain number of Be-200 as the aircraft has been contracted by several international customers.

In September 2018, US-based Seaplane Global Air Services announced a contract with TANTK for four Be-200ES with an option for six more. This was reconfirmed during the 2019 Paris Airshow with deliveries to happen in 2020-2021. At the same time, Chilean company Asesorias CBP Ltda. announced a deal for two Be-200ES, although the situation with both deals is currently unclear.

Engine Trouble

The aircraft’s D-436TP power plant is under production at Motor Sich in Zaporozhiye, Ukraine and has been banned for export to Russia since the 19th February 2018. The management of TANTK found an interim solution to employ French-Russian SaM146 engine which is currently used by the Sukhoi SUPERJET 100 aircraft. The re-engined vehicle had already been on display when the Russian General Prosecutor office banned the use of this engine aboard Be-200 due to its NATO-country origin, casting doubt on plans for an anti-submarine warfare version of the aircraft.