A Russian enigma

This first appeared as a Comment in the 4 February issue of Flight International

In a simpler world, Bombardier would not contemplate a second Dash 8 Q400 assembly line in Russia. The Canadian airframer’s civil turboprop is just the sort of high-technology, low-volume product demanding skilled assembly from a large number of sophisticated components that is most economically built on a single line, to streamline logistics, minimise duplicated costs and maintain quality control.
Alas, nothing is so simple for the Q400. Though ­turboprops are enjoying a resurgence, the Q400 is not selling well, and even at the current low rate of production and delivery Bombardier will have exhausted its backlog in a couple of years. Barring a surge of orders, it is not unreasonable to ask whether the programme will need even one assembly line for much longer. Russia, however, is the biggest potential market for the Q400. If the programme has a future, Russian demand may be to thank for it. But even then, as aircraft are easily flown to their final destination there is no economic imperative for local production except to beat the ­Russian import tax on turboprops.
Perhaps that tax explains the whole affair. But it is still hard to imagine that Russian Q400 demand will be high enough and costs in Ulyanovsk low enough to overturn the rationale for running just one assembly line. Are the Russians getting an assembly line, or are they taking over the programme?

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