Russia’s government is expecting serial production of the Irkut MC-21 to be pushed back by up to two years, and has outlined optimistic plans to ramp-up output of older, and less fuel-efficient, aircraft types in the interim.
During a briefing that followed a presidential meeting on the state of the air transport sector, deputy prime minister Yuri Borisov admitted that the country’s civil aviation industry is “facing a serious challenge” given the sanctions which prevent supply of foreign aircraft and spares.
“Certain decisions have been made,” he says, insisting that the “vast majority” of the Airbus and Boeing fleet – those aircraft not already repossessed following the introduction of sanctions – “will remain in Russia”.
“They are entered into the Russian register and reinsured by Russian insurance companies,” he says.
Borisov adds that the fleet is “quite young”, less than 15 years of age, and that the ministry of transport and the ministry of industry are looking at how these aircraft can safely continue to operate until sufficient domestically-built aircraft can be produced.
The ban on foreign component supply is one of the central issues facing current aircraft production. Despite the government policy of import substitution, aimed at replacing foreign-built components with domestically-built equivalents, the latest aircraft models – the MC-21 and Superjet 100 – still use a substantial number of overseas parts.
Borisov says the government will “dynamically” work to accelerate import substitution.
But he admits that original plans for serial production will shift by “one or two years”. Initial MC-21 production relied on receiving Pratt & Whitney PW1400G engines, but these “will no longer be supplied”, says Borisov.
Serially-produced MC-21s, he says, will have to be “completely replaced” by airframes powered by the Russian-built Aviadvigatel PD-14.
“The shift in serial production of [the MC-21 and Superjet 100] for a year or two will be filled by organising serial production of existing models,” claims Borisov.
He specifies that these include the Tu-214 and “if necessary” the Ilyushin Il-96-400. The latest version of the Il-96, a four-engined widebody, is the -400M but the first example remains under construction in Voronezh. The plant still produces the occasional -300 for government use.
“We never stopped producing [these types] but they were built in limited numbers, mainly for special operators,” says Borisov.
“Airlines have always looked down on them because of one indicator – fuel efficiency.”
But he says that, in the current circumstances, this fuel-efficiency element “can be ignored”, adding that the government will consider measures to limit jet fuel prices to avoid shifting the cost to passenger air fares.
Borisov claims that “all airlines” are prepared to take the Tu-214 – of which fewer than 100 have been built since its maiden flight in 1996 – but that production will mean smoothing “bottlenecks” across the entire supply chain, and increasing component manufacture. This includes constructing a new machining facility in Kazan, the centre of Tu-214 assembly.
The government is also aiming to speed up serial production of regional aircraft including the Il-114-300, the UGMK L-410 and L-610, and the Baikal Engineering LMS-901.
Borisov claims a “unique opportunity” has opened for Russian aircraft manufacturers to fill a niche, and change the proportion of domestically-built types – pointing out that, during the time of the Soviet Union, all aircraft were domestically produced. “This practice needs to be restored,” he says.
State technology firm Rostec says the priorities for the air transport industry are to avoid maintenance downtime for the current fleet owing to lack of foreign parts, and to reconfigure “in the shortest possible time” the country’s current aviation programmes.
Rostec says the aim is to put more than 500 domestically-built aircraft on the market by 2030, from the five main programmes – the MC-21, Superjet 100, Il-114-300, Tu-214 and Il-96.
It says the Tu-214 and Il-96 are “reliable and safe aircraft that have already proven themselves”.
“We must be realistic and understand clearly that such tasks are not easily solved,” adds Rostec. “It takes time, resources, and maximum effort – but all this is achievable.”