Little pieces of Seattle and Toulouse in Moscow

Over the past decade Boeing and Airbus have each created engineering design centres in Moscow. They have similar objectives and I’ve just had the fascinating experience of visiting them on consecutive days. We’ll talk about them at length in the magazine shortly, but my overriding memory right now is just how powerfully they’ve inserted their corporate cultures into what are essentially Russian operations. I also visited UTC which had terrible experiences putting P&W engines on Russian airliners in the early 1990s – none of them have really sold – but in many ways have quietly achieved more than any other Westerners in Russian aerospace since then.


One of the strangest features of aerospace in Russia is the way engineering and manufacturing facilities are located in downtown Moscow. You turn into an office building off one of Moscow’s glitziest shopping streets, take the elevator, and you’re looking at rows of engineers designing Boeing freighters as you can see here.


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Boeing is like Boeing everywhere. Hard to get into, but informal and open once you do. (Their blogs are the other way round – easy to get into but just a little on the ‘corporate’ side – but kudos to them for taking the plunge before we did.) In Moscow the boss – Sergey Kravchenko – is Russian and was unfortunately out of town. The rest of the staff are also almost entirely Russian with just a handful of engineering and management liason staff seconded from Seattle. You could still be in Everett though – functional offices, lots of blue and grey, .


Airbus, which runs its ECAR centre as a joint venture with Kaskol of Russia is similar. The building is even more anonymous but the contrast inside is much the same, as you can see.


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And Airbus is like Airbus everywhere. Brittle and complicated, control-freakish, but laser-focused on the objective of the hour, day or year. Airbus’ hospitality knows no bounds but they won’t let you leave without being sure you got whatever was the message. I’ll say frankly that I’m a huge admirer of both companies with all their differences.


Airbus/ECAR is run by the strangely low-profile Vladimir Raschupkin. Why strangely? Well this is a man who headed GE Aircraft Engines in Russia for seven years and also the P&W Canada engineering centre in St Petersburg – but try a web search and see what you discover about him. As expected from a graduate of the Jack Welch school of management, he’s tough-minded, intensely focused, hugely proud of his operation, and fascinating to talk to.


UTC is different again. This is a company that employs 3,000 Russians, but the vast majority work for Otis Russia – in the land of the apartment block Otis is in elevator-manufacturer heaven! P&W and P&WC are still hard at work, but the most interesting thing is HS Nauka – the joint venture of Hamilton Sundstrand with Russian heat-exchanger specialist Nauka. Small? Well yes, but not trivial. On my visit I found myself looking at most of an A380 air pack in one room, and seeing the Boeing 787 system being designed on screen in the next. General manager Leonid Mazin oozes pride in his young workforce and the way the joint venture has gradually worked its way up UTC’s value chain.


I also had one of those “don’t touch that – oh, you already did” moments when Mazin showed me a just-completed heat-exchanger element. Entranced by all the crinkly aluminium I just had to take hold of it, at the precise moment that he explained that it had just undergone chemical cleaning ready for installation. Ho hum. Apologies.

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