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Ukraine's Biggest Plane Maker Shuts Down -- and Boeing and Lockheed Breathe a Sigh of Relief

By Rich Smith – Feb 6, 2016 at 12:13PM

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The Antonov Aviation Company is no more.

It's the end of an era in Ukraine -- and I'm not just talking about the loss of Crimea.

Antonov's flying barn -- the An-225 Mriya. Image source: Mike Freer via Wikimedia Commons.

In June 2015, three subsidiaries of the state-owned Antonov Aviation Concern were transferred to the ownership of similarly state-owned UkrOboronProm. These subsidiaries included the Kharkiv State Aircraft Manufacturing Company, State Civil Aviation Enterprise Plant 410, and the Antonov Company itself -- which builds Ukraine's "An-" aircraft and operates "Antonov Airlines."

In connection with last year's transfer, the Ukrainian Ministry of Economic Development and Trade announced last week that the subsidiaries' parent company, Antonov Aviation Concern, will be officially "liquidated," and cease to exist. (To avoid confusion, from now on we'll refer to the parent company-soon-to-be-liquidated as "AAC," and the Antonov Company subsidiary as just plain "Antonov."

De factos on the ground
Liquidating AAC was only logical. After all, as a TASS article on the development points out, Ukraine has really only "legally brought the situation into compliance with the real state of things." After its subsidiaries' exit, AAC was little more than an empty shell. All the valuable assets had already moved to UkrOboronProm.

But what does AAC's liquidation mean for investors in the aerospace and defense industry, now that it's no more?

So long, Antonov. We hardly flew ye
Honestly, it doesn't mean much. As TASS noted, liquidating AAC was really more of a formality than an event. As it turns out, what's going on at AAC's subsidiary -- Antonov itself -- is much more interesting.

Antonov is perhaps best known as the builder of the world's two largest transport aircraft, the An-225 Mriya and the An-124 Ruslan. Only one An-225 Mriya was ever built, and at last report it was still operating with Antonov Airlines. It has presumably been transferred to UkrOboronProm along with the rest of Antonov.

Antonov's An-124 Ruslan, the world's biggest mass-produced air transport. Image source: Dtom via Wikimedia Commons.

As for the An-124, no new Ruslans have been built since 1995. Ukraine hoped to resume production in cooperation with Russia in 2014, but the latter's invasion of the former made that politically impossible, and the resumption of production was called off. That means that, unless UkrOboronProm tries to restart the program on its own, the An-124, too, is probably history -- and that could be good news for America's own Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT).

What it means to Lockheed
You see, here at The Motley Fool, we're as interested in developments in the aerospace world -- as news -- as anyone else. But what we're most interested in is how these developments affect investors in the companies that make the news. Simply put, we aim to tell you what the news means for your portfolio.

So here's the deal: The world will probably never see another An-225 Mriya built. But even Antonov's smaller An-124 Ruslan is a much bigger bird than anything Boeing (NYSE: BA) or Lockheed Martin produce, and as such, would be a formidable competitor for global military buyers seeking large-capacity airplanes.

Boeing announced the shutdown of production on its C-17 Globemaster, its biggest military transport, back in 2013. The last C-17 rolled off the assembly lines last month. Boeing's C-17 boasted a maximum payload of 164,900 pounds. Antonov's An-124, in contrast, could airlift more than 330,000 pounds of cargo -- twice the C-17's payload.

That leaves Lockheed Martin, with its C-130 Hercules and C-5 Galaxy, as the builder of America's largest transport aircraft -- and both of these are still in production. According to Lockheed's latest earnings report, the company produced 21 C-130s and nine modernized C-5 Galaxies to various buyers in 2015. Of these, the C-5 is the bigger bird -- even bigger than Boeing's C-17. But even so, the C-5 can lift "only" 285,000 pounds of cargo. As for the C-130, while it's a very capable plane, and indeed the most popular military transport in the world, the C-130's 44,000-pound payload  means it really doesn't rate against the An-124 at all.

Simply put, for sheer brute-force lifting capacity, Antonov's An-124 outclasses anything built by either Boeing or Lockheed Martin. Accordingly, a resumption of An-124 production would pose a real threat to Boeing and Lockheed Martin's global sales of military transports. When you get right down to it, though, it never really mattered whether Antonov formed part of AAC, or moved to UkrOboronProm. What mattered was whether Antonov could find a Russian partner to help it restart An-124 production -- and that hope died when the first Russian tanks started rolling two years ago.

Unless peace suddenly breaks out in Ukraine, Boeing and Lockheed probably have nothing to fear from Antonov. 

Lockheed Martin's C-5 Galaxy swallows semis whole? Image source: Lockheed Martin.

Rich Smith does not own shares of, nor is he short, any company named above. You can find him on Motley Fool CAPS, publicly pontificating under the handle TMFDitty, where he's currently ranked No. 251 out of more than 75,000 rated members.

The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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