Dubai Air Show

Italian aerospace forging alliances east and west

 - December 11, 2006, 11:03 AM

For more than a decade Italy’s Alenia Aeronautica dreamed of joining Airbus only to have its advances rejected by the group’s French, German and British shareholders. So the subsidiary of the diverse Finmeccanica group has taken to courting partnerships in other countries such as Russia, Greece and Turkey, while increasing its commitment to serving as a Tier 1 supplier to Airbus’ rival Boeing. Nevertheless, at the same time, Alenia stands as a significant aerostructures contributor to the Airbus A380 super large airliner.

Evidence of its newfound closeness with Russian industry came at August’s MAKS airshow in Moscow, where Alenia formally joined the Sukhoi-led Russian Regional Jet (RRJ) program. In a separate move, the Italians entered into industrial and commercial partnerships with other Russian aerospace companies in the fields of aircraft design, training aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicle technology.

Alenia has signed a memorandum of understanding through which it could take up to a 25-percent stake in Sukhoi Civil Aircraft Co. (SCAC). But the Russian government, under pressure to scrap the current 25-percent limit on the amount of foreign ownership in a Russian aerospace manufacturer, must first approve the deal. Separately, India’s Hindustan Aeronautics wants to take a 10-percent stake in SCAC, but cannot do so under current rules if Alenia takes a 25-percent stake. Political observers expect the Russian parliament to consider a proposal to raise the limit to 50 percent and, in theory, resolve the matter by year-end.

Under current plans, Alenia would contribute to certain phases of the 70- to 100-seat RRJ program, including European certification and preproduction responsibilities. It also expects to get involved in marketing the aircraft to airlines in Western countries and providing technical support for the twinjet.

Ties To Irkut and Yakovlev

In a separate move, Finmeccanica subsidiaries Alenia Aeronautica and Aermacchi, plan to establish three industrial and commercial partnerships in aircraft design, training aircraft and UAV technology with Russia’s Irkut and its subsidiary Yakovlev.

The first of the three agreements signed at MAKS establishes a Moscow-based management company, owned 51 percent by Alenia and 49 percent by Irkut, to create a joint think tank of highly specialized staff to develop civil engineering projects.

The second agreement, signed by Aermacchi, Yakovlev and Rosoboronexport (the Russian defense export organization) redefines the geographic areas of responsibility for the sale of the next generation M-346 and Yak-130 jet trainers, manufactured by Aermacchi and Yakovlev, respectively. The partners will also work together in developing new models based on the Yak-130 for export outside Italy and Russia and will jointly design and promote a new international version of the aircraft.

The third agreement involves Alenia, Aermacchi, Rosoboronexport, Irkut and Yakovlev in the joint development and testing of leading-edge technologies in the UAV field, using the Yak-130 as a platform. Tests and development work will occur at various Russian facilities.

Alenia has emerged as one of the key risk-sharing partners in Boeing’s new 787 airliner program. The relationship not only provides important investment and technological know-how in aerostructures for the U.S. airframer, but it allows Boeing to include significant European content in the aircraft as part of its effort to repackage itself as a global company.

Single-Piece Fuselage

The 787 project introduces an important innovation in the production process. For the first time an entire fuselage barrel will be manufactured in a single piece of carbon fiber by a state-of-the-art machine that “weaves” the composite materials. Alenia will employ the technology in building   the 787’s horizontal tail stabilizer at its Foggia plant.

Meanwhile, Finmeccanica has also approved an agreement between Alenia and Vought Aircraft Industries of the U.S. for the creation of Global Aeronautica. The joint venture is to assemble and integrate the tail horizontal stabilizer and the  central and rear sections.

The airframe sections will be built in the partners’ home facilities, as well as at the facilities of other international suppliers. The respective partners will then transport the sections to Charleston, South Carolina, where earlier this year Alenia and Vought started to build a new assembly plant,  scheduled to open at the beginning of next year. A modified Boeing 747 will transport the sections produced by Alenia from southern Italy to Charleston.

Alenia expects to deliver the first completed airframe sections to Boeing during the first quarter of 2007. Another facility, wholly owned by Vought, is to open next to the Charleston facility to produce 787 components.

Finally, Finmeccanica signed a letter of intent with Greece’s Hellenic Aerospace Industries to discuss joint aerospace and defense projects worth almost $400 million, due to be confirmed by the end of the year. It also has set up Selex Komunikasyon in Turkey to build secure, antijamming and frequency-hopping HF radio systems for the Turkish armed forces.