RAA 2007: Five nations fielding new RJ entries

 - April 30, 2007, 10:46 AM

Antonov | An-148

The 80-seat Antonov An-148-100 won type approval from Russian and Ukrainian authorities in late February, marking the successful completion of the first new regional jet design in the former Soviet Union since the fall of the Iron Curtain. Kazakh airline SCAT plans to take the first of two airplanes scheduled for delivery from Ukrainian supplier Aviant this year. At least 10 production airplanes stand in various stages of completion at Aviant’s plant in Kiev, while Russian supplier VASO continues final assembly on two at its facilities in Voronezh, southwest Russia.

VASO’s status as one of the An-148’s two final assembly contractors has survived political tension between elements within the Russian and Ukrainian governments and conflicts arising from its participation in the Russian Superjet project, a direct rival to the Antonov product. Not only has Antonov granted VASO a license to assemble the airplanes in Voronezh, the Russian manufacturer also supplies the An-148’s tail section, rear fuselage, engine pylons and high-lift devices. Plans to integrate Russia’s aerospace industry under the United Aircraft (OAK) banner include a goal to assemble 78 An-148s at the VASO plant over the next six years. Aviant plans to build 34 by 2010.

During February 26 ceremonies in Kiev to mark the certification, Ilyushin Finance Company signed a deal to lease 10 VASO-built An-148s to Russia’s Polyet Airlines next year. Ilyushin Finance had already spoken for 18 An-148s, 10 of which it plans to lease to Krasnoyarsk’s Krasair and eight to St. Petersburg-based Pulkovo Aviation.
Krasair and Pulkovo also hold options on five and 10 airplanes, respectively.    

Flown for the first time in December 2004, the first An-148 and its twin prototype flew more than 1,200 hours over the course of two years before gaining the type’s approvals this February.

ACAC | ARJ21

China’s AVIC I Commercial Aircraft (ACAC) continues its deliberate march toward a third-quarter 2009 introduction of the 90-seat ARJ21-700, the first in a two-member family of jets to include the 105-seat ARJ21-900. Delayed by at least
a year after ACAC decided to stretch the -700’s airframe by three feet to create more distance between the exit doors and engines and use more composite materials to reduce weight, assembly of the first airframe began in late March in Shanghai. If all goes according to plan, launch customer Shandong Airlines will take the first production example in September 2009.

The ARJ21 program partners–a consortium led by government-controlled ACAC and in which 15 separate shareholders hold an interest–have now signed no fewer than 19 U.S. and European aerospace component suppliers to contribute to the effort.
Eight separate ACAC-controlled factories participate in production, including program leader and final assembler Shanghai Aircraft, fuselage and wing supplier Xi’an Aircraft Industries, nose section builder Chengdu Aircraft and engine pylon/vertical stabilizer contractor Shenyang Aircraft.

The milestone delivery in March of the first sets of wings and main fuselage sections from Xi’an nearly coincided with the opening of an FAA office in Shanghai to support Chinese authorities’ efforts to meet international certification standards. U.S. suppliers hope the new office helps smooth the process of integrating their products into the finished design. Some 40 percent of the ARJ21’s components come from outside China, including its GE CF34-10A turbofans and Rockwell Collins Pro Line avionics.

Still holding firm orders for 35 airplanes, ACAC hasn’t landed a new ARJ21 customer since September 2003, when it announced the launch orders for 10 from Shandong Airlines, five from Shanghai Airlines and 20 from Shenzhen Finance Leasing. Xiamen Airlines has since signed an MOU for six ARJ21-700s.

Bombardier | CRJ1000

Officially launched in late February on the strength of three firm orders for 38 aircraft, the 100-seat CRJ1000 extends Bombardier’s venerable regional jet line to its practical limit and erases any ambiguity about its desire to mount a stronger challenge to Embraer in the upper reaches of the market segment.

Although the CRJ1000’s published price, at $46 million, exceeds that of the 100-seat Embraer E190 by some $11 million, the two airplanes will in practice sell for about the same amount. Likely less attractive to major airlines than the somewhat roomier and longer-range E190, the CRJ1000 will weigh considerably less and, according to Bombardier, cost 15 percent less to operate.

Of course, fair operating-cost comparisons must take into account mission profiles and fleet compositions, and Bombardier holds no illusions about the CRJ family’s target market; regional and low-fare airlines account for just about the company’s entire demand estimates for some 400 airplanes over 20 years. Still, as Bombardier has tweaked interior configurations with each new iteration of the CRJ, cabin comfort and utility have improved.

Previously designated the CRJ900X, the CRJ1000 will measure 9 feet, 8 inches longer than the biggest Bombardier airplane in production, come with larger windows and offer more overhead baggage space. Using a 2- to 5-percent more powerful version of the GE CF34-8C5s on the CRJ900, the newest CRJ will fly as far as 1,691 nm under optimal conditions. Other changes include a 7.5 percent wing area increase using trailing edge and wingtip extensions, stronger main landing gear and carbon, instead of steel, brakes.

Scheduled for first flight in the summer of 2008 and certification in late 2009, the CRJ1000 program will cost the company some $300 million, all of which will come from company cash flow, said company president Pierre Beaudoin.

Mitsubishi | MJ70/90

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries has established a special-purpose company dedicated to attracting the estimated $1 billion it needs to market a proposed pair of 70- and 90-seat regional jets. The company expects to decide whether or not to launch the project by next March, in time, it hopes, to certify the 90-seater by 2012. During last year’s Farnborough Air Show, Mitsubishi revealed design targets that place range for both airplanes at 1,950 nm, cruise speed at Mach 0.78, takeoff field length for the MJ70 at 5,710 feet–260 feet shorter than that estimated for the MJ90–and maximum takeoff weight at 84,400 and 92,800 pounds, respectively. A model of the MJ90 depicted a slender, 115-foot-long fuselage, under-wing engine placement and pair of pronounced winglets. 

Sukhoi | Superjet 100

Plans for the airplane known until last July as the Russian Regional Jet have finally crystallized with the signing of a long-planned deal to sell Italy’s Finmeccanica a 25-percent stake in Sukhoi Civil Aircraft. The transaction results in the creation of
a separate joint venture based in Italy or France, of which Finmeccanica subsidiary Alenia controls 51 percent and Sukhoi 49 percent. Under the terms of that deal, the Italian company will assume responsibility for Superjet sales, marketing and customer support, and provide composite parts and components. For its part, Sukhoi will assemble the airplanes in Russia. Alenia CEO Giovanni Bertolone said that the partnership could expand to include other businesses within Finmeccanica and a potential support role for the EADS/Alenia-owned Avions de Transport Regional (ATR).

Most recent published schedules call for final assembly of the first prototype by November, completion of the static test aircraft in December, first flight in September of next year and Russian certification in October 2008.

Aside from Alenia, perhaps the program’s most influential Western partner remains France’s Snecma, which along with Russia’s NPO Saturn formed the joint venture known as PowerJet specifically to build the SaM146 turbofans destined to power both the 75- and 95-seat versions of the Superjet 100. The partners, which ran the first test engine for the first time last spring, expect the 14,000- to 17,500-pound-thrust design to gain certification next March.

Boeing, meanwhile, still acts as a consultant, but at some point might help provide parts warehousing for foreign customers, according to Civil Aircraft Asia/Pacific regional director Anatoly Mezhevov. Further Boeing participation could involve the establishment of an Alteon training facility in Moscow, he added.

Sukhoi counts firm orders for 30 RRJs from Aeroflot, 10 from Russia’s Finance Leasing Company and six from Dalavia Far East Airways. One-time “launch customer” and member of the RRJ airline advisory council Siberian Airlines has allowed its letter of intent for 50 airplanes to expire.   

IN THE WORKS

Antonov – An-148 (4/07 p. 86)
Russian certification awarded 2/26/07.

ACAC I – ARJ21 (4/07 p. 87)
First flight late 2007; certification 2009.

Bombardier – CRJ1000 (4/07 p. 87)
First flight scheduled for summer 2008;
certification due 4Q/09.

Bombardier – Q400X (9/06 p. 102)
Proposed stretch of Q400 turboprop;
launch contingent on market interest.

Mitsubishi – MJ70/90 (10/06 p. 77)
Proposed 70- and 90-seat regional jets
targeted for 2008 launch and 2012 certification.

Sukhoi – Superjet 100 (1/07 p. 68)
First flight Sept. 2007; certification Oct. 2008.

Numbers in parentheses indicate issue and page
of previous reference in AIN.