Comac may partner Russia to develop widebody project

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Comac could be receptive to the idea of working with Russia to develop a new widebody aircraft, sources say.

This is because the Chinese airframer's limited engineering resources are bogged down with the certification of its ARJ21 regional jet and C919 narrowbody programmes, hence, working with the Russians on the widebody could be an attractive proposal, they add.

The five-year-old airframer is also inexperienced and could benefit from the joint development, although another camp within Comac believes that China should have a go at the project on its own.

However, the final decision would be made by the government, a top official says.

Comac had previously told Flightglobal Pro that it is aiming to have its own widebody aircraft by 2025. It has even set aside land for a twin-aisle aircraft production facility at its upcoming final assembly centre south of Shanghai's Pudong International Airport.

Last December, Russia's deputy prime minister Dmitry Rogozin told reporters that Moscow and China have agreed to start work on a "large-scale project" to build a long-haul widebody aircraft. The size of the aircraft would be based on market needs, he added. It is unclear whether a formal agreement has been signed.

"The Russian and Chinese governments have instructed their aircraft building companies to start working on this project," said Rogozin. "In fact, this aircraft could become a competitor to major manufacturers such as Boeing and Airbus."

He explained that Russia's population is not very large nor mobile, and that the aircraft would need to tap on the Chinese air traffic market, although he reiterated that the project will not overlap with independent aircraft programmes ongoing in the two countries.

It is understood that the Ilyushin Design Bureau will be the Russian manufacturer involved with Comac, its Chinese counterpart.

Flightglobal Pro reported last June that the countries would work on a new widebody aircraft based on the Ilyushin II-96, a four-engined long-haul widebody, and that Russia would contribute the intellectual rights, technology and know-how while the Chinese would provide the production facility.

Russia had said that the aircraft development will take at least seven years and cost $7-12 billion.

Both China and Russia have been trying to break the Airbus and Boeing duopoly with their Sukhoi Superjet 100, Irkut MS-21, ARJ21 and C919.

There are 21 II-96s in operations with carriers such as Aeroflot, Rossiya, Cubana and Polet Airlines.