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INTERVIEW: CR929 boss details progress, timeline

Sino-Russian joint venture CRAIC is “very close” to finalising the engine supplier for its CR929 widebody programme, with certification pushed back two years to 2027.

Rolls-Royce and General Electric are the two finalists, and a letter of intent will be signed by the first half of the year, before moving into the joint definition phase, CR929 programme director Xie Canjun tells FlightGlobal.

Rolls-Royce and GE are offering upgraded versions of their current powerplants for the Chinese-Russian widebody, but CRAIC is expecting an at least 10% improvement in fuel consumption.

In an interview at Comac's headquarters in Shanghai, Xie concedes that the original plan was to pick the engine supplier by the end of 2018. The schedule has had “a slight push back” because the workload has been heavier than expected.

CRAIC, the Comac and United Aircraft joint venture, has also issued requests for proposals for the aircraft’s other key systems and equipment. Responses are due in April and decisions will be made after evaluations within the year.

Xie says the programme has to complete concept design by the end of 2019 or in early 2020, before moving into the definition phase.

2022 DESIGN FREEZE

The plan is to freeze definition in the first half of 2022, and for first flight to take place around 2025. It has set aside 18 to 24 months for flight tests, with a target for certification in 2027. The Russians had previously given a 2025 timeline for delivery, which industry observers had called “optimistic”.

“The aircraft’s 3D design, dimensions, we have fixed those," he says. "How wide and how long, the internal layout, the aircraft’s basic functionality, what is the range, and passenger capacity, these have all been done."

The baseline version of the aircraft, designated the CR929-600, will carry 280 passengers in a three-class configuration, with a range of 12,000km and a maximum take-off weight of 242t. With a single-class configuration, the jet will accommodate up to 440 passengers.

A major goal this year is securing a launch customer. Discussions have been ongoing with Chinese airlines since the beginning of development. The manufacturer is confident that an order is imminent.

Xie says that around 1,000 employees from Comac are dedicated to the CR929, with Russia expected to deploy a similar number. The duo also have a joint work plan where they each deploy 100 employees to work together for a month at a time, either in Shanghai or Moscow.

He concedes that the two partners have to first understand each other's practices, work flow and cultures before collaboration can proceed smoothly. This is especially critical in the early stages of development, where the technical specifications of the aircraft must be jointly decided.

For example, while joint technical and commercial teams have been formed, they also have to agree on the evaluation criteria for picking suppliers.

DIVISION OF LABOR

While the working language for the project is English, translators are also at hand to ensure accuracy in communication. There will also be a fair division, in both work and costs, between China and Russia.

While there may be complexities in joint development, Xie believes the duo can also tap on each other’s strengths. He gave the example of how the Russians have strong flight test capabilities. With both countries working on test modules concurrently, the time required for flight tests will be shorter.

Xie says that while the aircraft will compete with the Boeing 787 and the Airbus A350, it will aim to have better operating economics and be more environmentally friendly. CRAIC hopes to sell about 1,000 CR929s.

“The ARJ21 is an explorer, opening the path for China’s civil aviation development…the C919 we hope that it will be a successful aircraft type. For the CR929, we want it to be a commercially competitive aircraft of international standard.”

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