Russia’s United Aircraft Corporation (UAC) and its Chinese counterpart, Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (COMAC), are looking to complete a feasibility study this fall for the joint development of a new widebody commercial airliner. The partners will then present its results to the governments of the two countries, the Russian daily Rossiyskaya Gazeta quoted UAC head Mikhail Pogosyan as saying in early October. Pogosyan said that the technical requirements for the new airliner would be finalized by mid-2015. The major suppliers for this Russo-Chinese program will be selected around the same time.
The joint development of the future widebody aircraft was officially launched in May this year, when Pogosyan and the chairman of the COMAC board, Jin Zhuanglong, signed a memorandum of cooperation on this program during Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Shanghai. “The document signed here is the result of two years of joint work by Russian and Chinese specialists,” Pogosyan said during the ceremony, adding that the joint program was promoting the two countries’ aerospace cooperation to a new level.
The new aircraft is expected to carry 250-300 passengers, and will be used on medium-haul routes of between 6,500 and 7,400 km. The initial powerplant supplier may be selected from among Rolls-Royce, General Electric and Pratt&Whitney. Some sources suggest that China’s AVIC Commercial Aircraft Engines may develop a dedicated powerplant at a later stage.
The new widebody airliner will target the Russian and Chinese markets, and will also be marketed to third countries. In February this year, Pogosyan mentioned that the aircraft was expected to enter the market in 2023-2025. The UAC estimated at the time that the capacity of the global widebody segment would amount to 8,000 airliners through 2033, including 1,000 airframes in China.
The new widebody airliner will complement the product range of both manufacturers. The UAC currently produces the Sukhoi Superjet 100 regional jet and is in the process of developing the new MC-21 narrowbody aircraft, expected to enter service in 2017. The Russian company’s only widebody product is represented by the ageing Ilyushin Il-96 family, whose production is now limited to several airframes per year under the government order. COMAC is still working on its ARJ-21 regional program, while simultaneously developing the C919 single-aisle aircraft, which is expected to hit the market in 2016.
This joint program with China is of political importance to Russia at the moment, as Moscow fears that the US and EU sanctions imposed over the crisis in Ukraine are capable of throttling all cooperation with the Western aerospace industry. Russia and China have a long track record of cooperation in the military aviation segment, but their partnership on civil aviation projects is still in its infancy.
In order to facilitate the joint development effort, Russia and China signed a cooperation agreement on aircraft certification in mid-October. Representatives of Russia’s aviation certification authority, the Interstate Aviation Committee, explain that this document “will contribute to further cooperation on the development, production, and joint operation of aircraft.” Prior to the signing, the two countries’ aviation authorities had been exchanging information on their certification procedures for fixed-wing aircraft, helicopters, and aero engines.
Another joint project to potentially benefit from this certification cooperation agreement is the development of a future heavy helicopter under the Advanced Heavy Lifter program, which has been discussed between the Russian Helicopters holding company and China’s company Avicopter since 2008. Earlier this year, Russian Helicopters CEO Alexander Mikheev said that the new rotorcraft would incorporate the technology used in the Mil Mi-26T heavy transport model.