WORLD AIRLINERS: Mixed messages from Russia and China on regional programmes

-
Source:
This story is sourced from Flight International
Subscribe today »

As Russia and China focus on the development of single-aisle airliner families and high-capacity regional jets, progress towards developing aircraft to replace huge numbers of small turboprops and jets has been slow.

Indeed, it has been almost non-existent as far as replacing the 600-plus aged 50-seat Antonov An-24/26 turboprops is concerned. These plough on, principally in Russia and the CIS.

Efforts to build new turboprops suited to flying across varied terrain and great distances have found little favour with operators in Russia, the central Asian republics and China, and it is difficult to foresee a future for 50- to 70-seat turboprop types there.

 
Ilyushin Finance kick-started the An-158 programme by ordering 10, with 10 options, at July's Farnborough air show. Picture: Rex Features
JETS PREFERRED
As capacity demand rises, jet aircraft are increasingly the preferred choice, and there are signs that manufacturers in China, Russia and Ukraine are achieving a measure of success with new products with at least 70 seats. However, demand for a small modern jet to replace the 300 in-service 32-seat Yakovlev Yak-40 trijets has vanished, as it has for the similarly sized high-wing Antonov An-38 and the twin-boom Sukhoi Su-80 STOL aircraft, both powered by turboprops. The combined number of An-38s and Su-80s in service is less than 10, as is the number of the 52- to 64-seat Ilyushin Il-118s.

It is 20 years since the first flight of this low-wing type, but even given Pratt & Whitney PW127H engines and Western avionics in 1999 as the Il-114-100 failed to elicit interest.

Ilyushin still promotes the short-range, 52-seat Il-114-300, which would be powered by TV7-117SM engines, have built-in airstairs and an auxiliary power unit to enable operations from poorly equipped airfields, but it has yet to fly. Ilyushin parent United Aircraft claims there are almost 100 orders from Russian airlines alone, and that TAPO should produce 120-150 aircraft by 2015.

Voronezh-based airframe manufacturer VASO is considering enhancements to the 70-seat Antonov An-148, taking into account feedback received from Russian carrier Rossiya, which introduced the type on regional routes in December 2009 and now flies five aircraft.

These may include a more comfortable interior and improvements to the heating system, to enable operations under more extreme conditions in Russia's north.

The performance review could also evaluate a potential re-engining with the Powerjet SaM146 turbofan, but faces a legal challenge from Motor Sich, which has an agreement with Antonov to equip the first 50 serial An-148s with its D-436 engine.

Kuban Airlines of Krasnodar plans to acquire three An-148s, and start-up Air Samara is also to get three aircraft, as well as a similar number of An-140 turboprops. Russian state holding company Rostekhnologii has a long-term plan to add An-148s. United Aircraft and two as-yet-unidentified Indian regional airlines have signed a letter of intent for up to 19 An-148s, and has revealed Indian interest in 10 An-148 freighters.

Russian carrier Polet is also looking to add An-148s to fill a requirement for smaller-capacity freighters. The government of Myanmar is buying a VIP-configured An-148, Bangladeshi cargo carrier Bismillah Airlines is seeking three aircraft for passenger services, and the UAE is negotiating for two aircraft, potentially rising to 15. VASO plans to build one An-148 a month in 2011 and double the production rate in 2012.

Ilyushin Finance kick-started the An-158 programme by placing a firm order for 10 and taking options on another 10 at July's Farnborough air show. It expects to increase its order to 60 by the end of the year. The company considers the 99-seat stretch of the An-148 to have "good prospects".

The Kremlin has expressed an interest in the aircraft for the presidential wing, and Moscow-based Atlant-Soyuz, which last year committed to 30 An-148s, has revealed its intention to convert part of that batch into the stretched model.

The An-158 made its maiden flight on 28 April. The test programme is expected to be completed early in 2011. A cargo variant, to be designated the An-178, is one of several Antonov freighter projects. Projected to be ready by 2012, it will have a fair amount of commonality with the An-148, but will feature a strengthened airframe, ramp loading system and higher-thrust engines.

Siberian carrier Yakutia will develop its regional network with a fleet of twin-turboprop An-140s, of which it has five in service. It would require at least another dozen to meet its targeted route expansion.

Laos is negotiating for three An-140s, but these will not sustain a production run that has seen only about 25 produced since the type first flew in 1997, despite the aircraft being built in Russia, Ukraine and Iran, where HESA produced a version designated the IrAn-140. A series of accidents, three of them fatal, has not helped its market prospects. The passenger model is the An-140-100, but a 6t An-140T, a convertible An-140TK and an executive An-140VIP are also planned, as are various utility derivatives.

The 17-seat high-wing Chinese-built Y-12, which has been selling steadily but slowly over the past 25 years, has received a boost this year, with a memorandum of understanding and firm contract totalling 49 aircraft. In March, an MoU signed with Indonesian mining company Merukh Enterprises provided for the purchase of helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft, the latter including 24 Y-12 IV turboprops.

Merukh plans to place the aircraft with its two Indonesian carriers, Dirgantara Air Services and Sabang Merauke Air Charter. The aircraft acquisition is part of a mutual trade deal with China. In July, AVIC is believed to have signed a firm contract with Venezuelan fund Fundagrial for 25 Y-12 IVs, with additional aircraft expected to be bought later.

Fundagrial promotes agricultural and regional economic development in central and northern Venezuela and has teamed with local company Sireca for an airline venture to carry passengers and agricultural goods. Total sales are said to exceed 150, including more than 100 exported to 21 countries.

ORDER TRICKLE

The 60-seat Xian MA60 turboprop is another that has received little more than a trickle of orders since it was first flown as the Y7-200A in 1993. A development of the Y7 - a licence-built Antonov An-24 with locally built WJ5A engines and later Pratt & Whitney engines in the Y7-200A - the PW127J-powered MA60 with Rockwell Collins Proline 2 avionics was intended to appeal to the international market, but has achieved little success since entering service 10 years ago with Sichuan Airlines.

A competitive price, low operating costs and financial assistance should have boosted its appeal, but only 30 aircraft are in service, with another 10 in storage.

In March, Sri Lanka confirmed it is in negotiation with China to buy six MA60s, four for the Sri Lankan air force and two for Mihin Lanka, the government-owned low-cost carrier. The first two aircraft are due to be delivered this year and the rest in 2011. The MA60s are being bought with the help of a Chinese government preferred loan scheme. Chinese regional airline Joy Air, formed in 2008 by China Eastern Airlines and AVIC, operates four aircraft but has been reported to have 50 on order.

The improved MA600, which was due for certification in 2009 but has not achieved its target, has had no more success. This has an enhanced cabin, relocated passenger door and upgraded Pro Line 21 avionics.

Local carrier OK Airways, which operates an MA60, was reported to have signed a letter of intent for 30 MA600s.

A larger 70- to 80 seat MA700, which could be more suited to the length and density of the Chinese route structure, is still on the drawing board. Tentative plans have been announced for an entirely new turboprop aircraft and a general utility type.