HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - People in Huntsville got to climb aboard one of the biggest jets in the world on Wednesday. It's known as the 'Antonov' and it's not new. In fact, it's decades old, but it's a big deal for big industry in Huntsville.
If you don't find the topic of cargo shipping particularly fascinating, you should spend an hour with Matthias Frey. As he climbs the metal steps aboard the Antonov 124, Frey knows every inch of the Ukrainian built freighter.
"But, it's super well maintained," Frey said.
On this day, a handful of people were invited to Panalpina to step inside the massive cargo plane, which was about to load several tons heading to Angola.
"I know, for now, it serves a big purpose," Port of Huntsville board of directors chairman Carl Gessler said.
Frey says as reliable as the Antonov has been for around 40 years, the Cold War era jet is an endangered species. He tells me its lifespan may only be another five years. After that, they don't know.
"They're not building them commercially anymore," Frey said.
There are only about a dozen Antonovs still flying. Huntsville and Panalpina leaders count on it to ship rocket and military parts in an out of town. Building more of the aircraft would give Frey plenty more to talk about, not that it's a challenge.
So far, Boeing has an agreement to supply parts to Antonov to start building more of the mammoth jets, which could happen before Christmas. The next largest jet after the Antonov is the Boeing 747-8, which also flies in and out of Huntsville.