Russian industry special: Flying the flag at MAKS

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Russia is eager to get back on the world aerospace stage, and Moscow's MAKS air show is an ideal place for Western investors to forge new partnerships

Moscow's MAKS air show has a reputation for spectacular flying displays. Now the organisers are keen to make the show's commercial credentials equally impressive. Although it is unlikely to ever be on a par with Europe's more established air shows, MAKS is seen as a useful event for companies with a business in Russia or a joint project with a local partner - and for those considering the idea.

This year's show, from 21-26 August at Zhukovsky, is likely to be a negotiating stage for Western companies involved in projects with Russian manufacturers such as MiG and Sukhoi, and for those keen to get on board new Russian projects. The most notable of these are the MS-21 next-generation commercial airliner the PAK FA fifth-generation fighter the MiG-35 and Sukoi Su-35 combat aircraft a light strike aircraft and an unmanned air combat vehicle based on the Yakovlev Yak-130 advanced jet trainer.

Any discussions will take place on an ever-expanding site. This year's show will feature a new Hall H, which at 60 x 90m (195 x 295ft) is nearly three times larger than any of Halls A to F and twice as big as Hall G, which was completed for the 2005 show.

The MS-21 is perhaps the most intriguing of the new projects. It was conceived in 2003 when Yakovlev and Ilyushin, backed by NPK Irkut, Aviastar, VASO and Ilyushin-Finance and joined two years later by Tupolev, won a state tender to design a short- to medium-haul airliner. The 2003 tender offered the equivalent of $210 million for research and development but by 2005, when the team was to start design, the estimated cost of development and setting up a production line had soared to $1 billion, according to Aleksei Fyodorov, then Irkut president and now OAK president. Now the estimate is that $3 billion is needed to produce an internationally competitive next-generation mainline airliner, according to Irkut's new president Oleg Demchenko, who was Yakovlev general director/general designer at the MS-21's inception in 2003. Yet Demchenko and Fyodorov seem to have convinced the Kremlin it is worth spending $3 billion to make the MS-21 part of OAK's path to the global market.

Promise of funding

Their meeting earlier this year with deputy chairman of the Russian government Sergei Ivanov, acting chairman of the OAK control board, and Russian president Vladimir Putin produced a promise of funding in Russia's 2008 budget, with some money this year.

That the Kremlin is prepared to spend that sum shows the strength of its desire to re-enter the global airliner market, particularly as talks with Airbus on Russian participation in a successor to the A320 single-aisle family drag on.

Earlier, the MS-21 team had attempted to link with Bombardier in a bid to merge the project with the Canadian manufacturer's CSeries airliner, but Bombardier was more interested in another OAK project, the Sukhoi Superjet 100. An approach to China also failed, with Beijing opting instead for Airbus's offer of an A320 assembly site.

MS-21 chief designer Andrei Matveyev says a family of 150-, 170- to 180- and 210-seat versions are planned, bigger than the 130-, 150- and 170-seaters originally proposed to replace Tupolev Tu-154B/Ms. The shift upwards was influenced by Aeroflot general director Valery Okulov, who told Ivanov that a stretched 130 seat version of the Sukhoi Superjet, dubbed the SSJ-130, was the best replacement for the Tu-154s. As Matveyev admits: "The Tu-154B/M replacement process is already going on. Since my airplane's entry into service has slipped to 2015-16, it can not serve as Tu-154M replacement."

The redesigned MS-21 is to be more technologically advanced, with the share of composites in its structural weight rising to 40% and titanium to 15%. The remainder is made up by the GLARE aluminium/composite hybrid and new aluminium alloys.

The goal is to make the MS-21 15% cheaper to operate than a similarly sized A320 family member. Its target cruise speed has been increased from Mach 0.78 to M0.82, and aerodynamic efficiency (lift-to-drag ratio) is to be 10% higher than the A320's at M0.78. Industry sources also believe a baseline 200- to 210-seat MS-21 would increase Russia's chances of participating in China's "Big Aircraft" project for a 200- to 250-seat airliner and could be developed as a successor to the Tupolev Tu-204.

Whichever way the MS-21 turns out, it will open opportunities for system suppliers. Matveyev says the MS-21 team will initiate tenders for the main onboard systems later this year, inviting Russian and foreign bidders. Selection will be made in 2008 and Matveyev cites the SaM146 turbofan, created jointly by Snecma and NPO Saturn for the Superjet, as the example to follow. "We believe a 50/50 partnership with a Russian company is the most promising and suitable", he says.

The MS-21 team has approached three leading avionics suppliers, with Thales understood to be favourite because of its experience with the TopDeck avionics suite for the Superjet. "In any case, we should try to find a suitable Russian company that would work with a foreign partner," Matveyev says.

The MS-21 team has also sounded out Western and Russian engine manufactures, with the indigenous Ivchenko Progress AI-436 dropped after the recent changes in aircraft size. Matveyev says the MS-21 is likely to be twin engined, in that airlines will be given a choice of two engine suppliers. A Western supplier is believed to be close to an agreement, while Russian and Ukrainian engine makers are in talks between themselves on establishing a co-operative bid. Their engine is likely to use the new gas generator being developed by Perm Motors for the PS-12, the turbofan planned for the MTA/Il-214 airlifter.

Vladimir Skibin, general director at TsIAM (Central Institute for Aviation Motors) says "the engine can be created from scratch or on the base of an existing engine. Everything depends on the economics and service entry date." He adds that TsIAM's research shows the classic turbofan layout (without a geared fan) is suitable for the next generation of narrowbodies. In 2005 TSIAM favoured a geared fan, and supported the AI-436 proposal for the earlier MS-21 concept. Skibin says the bypass ratio for the new engine will be "considerably higher" than that of current generation engines. Geared fan merits have been assessed during flight testing of the Kuznetsov NK-93. The engine and its Ilyushin Il-76 testbed will be exhibited at the MAKS show along with the PowerJet SaM146, which is about to start flight testing on another heavily instrumented Il-76.

Another potentially attractive project for overseas investors is the next-generation PAK FA fighter. This provides less opportunity for foreign suppliers, but there are opportunities to participate in export versions such as variant to be developed jointly by India and Russia.

Meanwhile, the Russian air force will attempt to keep competition in the PAK FA development cycle. In July its tender for an engine to power the second phase aircraft attracted bids from NPO Saturn and MMPP Salyut. The winner will probably be asked to share the work with other companies, to reduce risk and cut development time. Salyut is considered the favourite after its AL-31FM3 outperformed the Saturn design in bench tests, despite the fact the first-phase PAK FA is to be powered by an Saturn 117S, which has also been selected for the Su-35.

The Su-35 is expected to star at MAKS, where the first example of the single-seat multirole fighter will be on static display. The MiG-35, which made its international debut in February at the Indian air show, will fly daily. Both the Su-35 and MiG-35 offer opportunities for foreign companies, especially in avionics. The Yakovlev Yak-130 advanced jet trainer will also be on static display. This has been selected by Russia as the platform for a light strike aircraft and a UCAV, with potential export versions providing opportunities for overseas vendors.

The Tu-204 is expected to shine at MAKS in the colours of new customers Cubana de Aviaction and Air China Cargo. VASO is making an effort to complete the first production Il-96-400 destined for Atlant Soyuz. The Superjet 100 is not at the show, but the first airframe can be seen at the TsAGI static testing laboratory, just a few hundred metres from the MAKS main gates.