EADS and Boeing firm up their Russian links

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After an energetic drive into Russian industry over the last decade, the activity level of Airbus, Boeing and other Western players in the country has reached something of a plateau as they have been achieving their key aims.

Both airframers have won substantial widebody and narrowbody business at Aeroflot and a degree of narrowbody orders at smaller carriers; both have tapped into Russia's pool of engineering talent for their own programmes; and both have pinned down multi-billion dollar deals securing their long-term titanium supplies from Russian specialist VSMPO.

There are likely to be more orders to come as Russia's plans to merge second tier carriers into a major domestic operation finally come to fruition, and the remarkably successful Transaero sets about its long-awaited fleet renewal.

 ms-21
 © United Aircraft
The MS-21 midsize airliner was championed by Irkut head Oleg Demchenko

EADS Russia president and chief executive Vadim Vlasov, who has overseen the company's development in his home country, admits that some of the early joint projects discussed were effectively "brainstorming", but says that some have gone well since.

The Soyuz is on track for a first launch from Kourou next year, the culmination of a €350 million ($500 million) investment programme in the launcher project.

Airbus's Moscow engineering centre ECAR, formed in a joint venture with investment company Kaskol, has reached its target of employing 200 Russian engineers engaged on a variety of tasks and the Kaskol share is likely to be bought out by United Aircraft one way or another.

Vlasov says: "UAC may step in either directly or through Irkut. But that is a Russian solution and we are happy either way. ECAR is just an offshore engineering centre - a part of Airbus that is in Russia."

The VSMPO titanium deal has also proceeded smoothly, even in a declining aircraft market. Vlasov says: "It is a smart contract. It has certain mechanisms allowing it to adjust to the current situation. It is mutually beneficial and flexible.

"We intend to increase the degree of our partnership with VSMPO. They are doing some interesting research work and they offered to let us evaluate that. Now we are thinking about increasing the mechanical finishing of the parts we are receiving from them."

Boeing has taken similar steps to develop its VSMPO relationship. In July this year the two companies' Ural Boeing Manufacturing joint venture began production of rough-machined parts destined for the Boeing 787. The US company has been given clearance to take a majority stake in the enterprise.

Airbus has three main areas of activity in Russia: the A350, the A320 passenger-to-freighter conversion, and joint studies of next-generation aircraft.

Vlasov says both sides eventually recognised that UAC could not become a risk-share partner on the A350 partly as it was state-owned, and partly because the timescales made it impossible for the companies to complete the work required for Airbus's due diligence procedure. Airbus has offered a second-tier supplier proposal that is being considered by UAC.

On the A320 passenger-to-freighter programme, the intention is to have the Dresden final assembly line running by the end of 2010 or beginning of 2011 and the Russian line about 18 months later. Vlasov says UAC is choosing between the Aviastar plant at Ulyanovsk and a site at Zhukovsky owned by Myasischev. He notes: "Both are acceptable to us and it is up to the Russians to decide. Aviastar would require less investment."

Finally, there is the study of future aircraft on which, says Vlasov, "we have made some progress". He explains: "The initial idea came from the Russian side who wanted to be more integrated in some Airbus programmes. So the idea was to develop a mutual understanding and go through a certain evaluation process."

He quotes Airbus chief executive Tom Enders' advice to "crawl, then walk, then run" and says Airbus first sourced components from Russia, then moved to design work with the A320 passenger-to-freight design, concluding: "So logically the next step would be more Russian involvement and more value-added activity."

Meanwhile, an area in which there may be better potential for near-term collaboration is helicopters. Eurocopter is firming up an agreement with Russian avionics and systems house Transas to customise helicopters for import into Russia. Vlasov notes: "In some cases Russian content might go up to 35% by value."