Russia Tries to Break Free

An overtly ambitious initiative was announced in March 2017 by Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin who advocated pushing forward the sales of indigenous passenger aircraft to domestic airlines.

The Irkut MS-21 has been developed with the intent of taking a share from the lucrative narrowbody market dominated by the Airbus and Boeing duopoly.

This is an act intended to suppress and eventually discontinue in the long term the import of Airbus and Boeing airliner models in Russia. According to Rogozin, who supervises Russia’s aerospace and defence industries, this will become possible thanks to the improvements in the performance and the economics of the Russian-made passenger aircraft expected in the near to mid-term. His eventual target is to achieve a full replacement of the airline fleet in Russia in ten to 15 years.

Current Situation

The prime customers of the improved derivatives of existing passenger aircraft and newly developed ones would be the Russian airlines with government-owned shareholdings and the government air operators.

To convince the state-controlled airlines to commence the replacement of their Western-made fleets with domestically made aircraft, Rogozin pointed out there is the need to beef up the wartime reserve air transport capability available to the Russian military. He noted the current Russian airline fleet dominated by Airbus and Boeing jets cannot be used as an effective wartime reserve force because all the leased aircraft would be immediately taken back in the event of war by their foreign lessors. In addition, the Western-made aircraft owned by Russian air operators would be deprived of maintenance services provided as rule by foreign MRO providers, most if not all of which are situated in the western world.

In order to speed up the rolling improvements of the existing Russian passenger aircraft in addition to newly delivered ones, the Russian state budget allocated RUB 52 billion, including RUB 31.9 billion dedicated to research and development activities on prospective civilian aviation projects.

As Rogozin noted, the Russian aerospace industry is currently able to produce only 30 passenger jets a year, but domestic airlines have for a long time stopped buying domestic-made aircraft such as the Il-96-300, Tu-204 and Tu-214. As a result, some 80% of the narrowbody and widebody fleets operated by Russian airlines is made up of Western jets, while the Western share in the regional sector hovers at about 33%. In 2015 alone, Rogozin claimed, Russian airlines paid Western lessors and maintenance services providers a total of RUB 225 billion.

Development Activities

The Russian Government is set to provide funding in 2017–2019 for development activities on three principal new civil aviation projects – the Il-114-300 passenger turboprop (RUB 20.4 billion), Il-96-400M four-engine widebody airliner (RUB 17.2 billion) and the PD-35 newgeneration turbofan (RUB 7.8 billion).

The main new programme in Russia is the Irkut MS-21 airliner, which according to Rogozin is scheduled for the first customer deliveries in late 2018. Slated for its maiden flight this spring, the newgeneration airliner has been developed with the intent of taking a share from the lucrative narrowbody market dominated by the Airbus and Boeing duopoly. The first version to be built, tested and certified is the 180-seat MS-21-300, followed by the shorter MS-21-200 with 150 seats. All government-controlled airlines in Russia, currently flying Boeing 737s and Airbus A320s, are seen as potential customers for the new-generation Russian airliner.

Meanwhile the Russian Ministry of Transport has released its forecast on the need for new passenger aircraft to be introduced by the country’s airlines. It says a total of 2,000 new aircraft are expected to be taken in the next 20 years, mainly in the narrowbody sector. Between 2017 and 2020, according to Russia’s Deputy Minister of Transport Valery Okulov, the numerical strength of the Russian airliner fleet is set to increase by 140 aircraft, while the country’s airlines are expected to replace another 300 on a one-on-one basis. Between 2017 and 2035, the total needs of the national airline industry are estimated at 1,700 to 2,000 aircraft, including between 1,100 and 1,300 narrowbody examples.

Fleet Projections

By early 2017, Russia-registered airlines operated a total fleet of 579 widebody and narrowbody jets, 494 of which are Western-made, with an average age of 11 years. According to Okulov, the vast majority of the foreign-produced passenger aircraft operated in Russia have been taken on operating lease arrangements and the typical duration of their use is between seven and 12 years. Okulov predicted the last of the currently operated airliners of Western origin in Russia will be withdrawn from use by 2030 or 2031. These aircraft would be replaced by either new-generation Russian-made or western-made machines.

To make this possible, annual deliveries of new aircraft to the Russian airlines should be sustained at a rate of 75 to 85 units per year. In the last ten years, according to Okulov, the average annual delivery rate was 82 aircraft. He also predicted aircraft with capacity between 50 and 220 seats would represent 75% of all deliveries. The current order book of the Russian manufacturers in this class comprises 175 MS-21s. In addition, a forecast made by the Russian stateowned leasing company GTLK calls for 105 new orders for the 87 to 108-seat Sukhoi SSJ-100 Superjet expected to be placed by Russian customers. The biggest Russian airline, state-owned Aeroflot, has a fleet of 30 SSJ-100s and expects delivery of 20 more in 2017 and 2018. It plans to increase its total fleet gradually to 230 aircraft in the period 2017 to 2025; this figure includes 50 MS-21s.

Going More Commercial

Russia’s United Aircraft Corporation (UAC), a state-controlled holding company that acts as the umbrella company of all major Russian military and civil aircraft manufacturers and design bureaux, has already announced its new strategy to increase the share of civilian aircraft production in the company to 45%. This is a significant change from today’s share of about 20%.

The MS-21 is the great hope of this strategy, where UAC also promises to establish a modern and effective customer support system, using the good practices of other airliner manufacturers and based on the experience accumulated with the customer support of the SSJ-100s operated worldwide.

Until the launch of the large-scale production of the MS-21, the SSJ-100 will continue to be the UAC’s main civilian product. Twenty were produced and 31 delivered in 2016; 39 more are expected to be produced in 2017.

The Il-96-400M is a facelift of the widebody/four-engine Il-96-400 currently in development. There are two potential airline customers in Russia, Ikar and Royal Flight, who have expressed interest in taking it for commercial operation. However, both of them want to get Russian Government subsidies to avoid making losses, since the Il-96- 400M will have excessively high direct operating costs.

Russian state-owned leasing company GTLK predicts orders for 105 new Sukhoi SSJ-100 Superjets.
Alexander Mladenov