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 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 after Moscow’s military invasion of Ukraine – “will remain in Russia”.
“They are entered into the Russian register and reinsured by Russian insurance companies,” Borisov says.
He says the fleet is “quite young”, less than 15 years of age, and that the industry and transport ministries are looking at how these aircraft can safely continue to operate until sufficient domestically-built alternatives are available.
The ban on foreign component supply is one of the central issues facing current aircraft production in Russia. Despite an existing government policy of import substitution, aimed at replacing foreign-built components with domestic 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 the import substitution policy, but 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”, Borisov says. This means that serially-produced MC-21s will have to be “completely replaced” by airframes powered by Russian-built Aviadvigatel PD-14s.
“The shift in serial production of [the MC-21] for a year or two will be filled by organising serial production of existing models,” Borisov claims.
He specifies that these include the Tupolev Tu-214 and “if necessary” the Ilyushin Il-96-400. A first example of the -400 version of the four-engined widebody 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,” notes Borisov.
“Airlines have always looked down on them because of one indicator – fuel efficiency,” he says.
Borisov 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.
He claims that “all airlines” are prepared to take the Tu-214 – of which fewer than 50 have been built since its first 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 Russian 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 a 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.”
Meanwhile, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency has suspended type certificates for the PowerJet SaM146-engined Superjet 100 and Rolls-Royce RB211-powered Tu-204-120CE, and “decided to put on hold” all work associated with validating the MC-21.
UAC details Tu-214 output challenge
United Aircraft (UAC) is examining the potential to increase Tupolev Tu-214 production in order to help meet domestic demand for new Russian-built aircraft.
Deputy prime minister Yuri Borisov visited the twinjet type’s production facility in Kazan on 22 March, to discuss whether the plant could gradually increase output to at least 10 per year.
Powered by Aviadvigatel PS-90A engines, the Tu-214 is still being manufactured in a specialist version for the Russian government, but at a low build rate.
“The urgent matter is to restore production of domestic models to the quantity required, so that we do not experience difficulties with the transportation of Russian citizens in the country and overseas,” Borisov says.
“We have not stopped producing [the Tu-214] and we are ready to fulfil the tasks set under the new conditions,” says UAC chief Yuri Slyusar.
He points out that the Kazan plant, which has been undergoing modernisation, has the “necessary production facilities and competencies” to build passenger variants.
However, he also acknowledges that the facility needs to attract qualified personnel to meet increased production demand – a potentially difficult issue which Slyusar has previously highlighted.
At a parliamentary meeting towards the end of last year he stated that the recruitment and labour issue presented a “serious challenge” and was “not easy” to address.
The Tu-214 made its maiden flight in March 1996. Commercial services began in May 2001 with Khabarovsk-based Dalavia, and the type was subsequently introduced by airlines including KrasAir and Transaero. Cirium fleets data shows that there are only 23 of the type in current use, none placed with commercial airline operators.