New Regional Airplanes

 - September 27, 2007, 6:41 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 airplane scheduled for delivery from Ukrainian supplier Aviant by the end of the year. At least 10 production airplanes stand in various stages of completion at Aviant’s plant in Kiev, which in August received certification from the International Aviation Committee Aircraft Register to proceed with serial production, 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 of 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.

August’s MAKS Airshow in Moscow played host to some of the program’s most recent contract signings, including deals brokered by Ilyushin Finance (IFC) to lease six of the airplanes to St. Petersburg-based Rossiya and three to Cuban national carrier Cubana. Total orders will exceed 100 once IFC and Moscow-based airline Moscovia convert a recently signed letter of intent calling for the delivery of nine An-148s between next year and 2010.

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 type approval this February.

Although by Eastern standards the An-148 has enjoyed fairly strong market interest within the former Soviet bloc, Western prospects appear far less immediate, and will hinge on Antonov’s ability to offer an alternative to the platform’s Progress D436-148 turbofans. The company has held talks with PowerJet about fitting the new SaM146 on the An-148 and General Electric about the CF34-10; however, any such undertaking will have to wait until Antonov secures more development funding.

AVIC I 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-aircraft series 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, ACAC will fly the first prototype in March next year and deliver the first production example to launch customer Shandong Airlines in September 2009.

Eight separate ACAC-controlled factories participate in production of the ARJ21-700, 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 this past 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. That proportion will change, however, when AVIC I subsidiary Shenyang Liming begins building the engines in China under the terms of a coproduction agreement signed by GE and AVIC I last month.

Another recently agreed upon Western partnership will accompany a $100 million investment from Canada’s Bombardier, which announced at June’s Paris Air Show
that it would help develop the ARJ21-900’s fuselage using composite technologies planned for the proposed C Series. For its part, ACAC has promised to spend $400 million in R&D and plant construction to support the still theoretical C Series.

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. It has since collected MoUs from Xiamen Airlines for six and from Shanghai Electric Leasing for 20. The program produced its first tangible evidence of interest from abroad when Lao Airlines signed an MoU for two in July.
 

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 the company’s desire to mount a stronger challenge to Embraer in the upper reaches of the market segment.

Although at $46 million the CRJ1000’s published price 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 comparisons of operating cost must take into account mission profiles and fleet compositions, and Bombardier holds no illusions about the CRJ series’ 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.

The airplane is scheduled to fly next summer and gain certification in late 2009. The CRJ1000 program will cost the company some $300 million, all of which will come from company cash flow, said Bombardier president and COO Pierre Beaudoin.

Bombardier | C Series

Downgraded in status last year from an imminent launch candidate to a loosely defined study, the proposed 110- to 130-seat Bombardier C Series gained a much needed boost over the summer when China’s AVIC I pledged $400 million toward product development and construction of plants to build the airplane’s center fuselage section and other parts. Now Bombardier needs equally serious commitments from potential customers.

While Bombardier’s sales force works at achieving that rather elusive objective, the design continues to evolve, with recent increases in the use of composites in the wings and fuselage and a decision to wait, in essence, for further advances in engine technology from Pratt & Whitney and others. The company aims to decide on an engine in the 23,000-pound maximum thrust range by the end of this year.

Originally expected to decide whether or not to launch the program last year, Bombardier bought itself more time with a decision to move its target for introduction from 2010 to 2013, the year Northwest Airlines plans to begin replacing its aged fleet of DC-9s. Bombardier has said, however, that it wants orders from at least two major customers before it moves forward with a launch.

Mitsubishi | MRJ70/90

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. Japan’s trade ministry has already pledged $330 million over four years starting next April.

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.

Mitsubishi displayed a full-scale mockup of the airplane’s cabin at June’s Paris Air Show, where the project drew a fair amount of attention from prospective customers and program partners. The mockup revealed a cylindrical shape measuring 9.5 feet (2.9 meters) in diameter. The 90-seat version would measure 117.5 feet (35.8 meters) long and feature the same 101.4-foot (30.9 meter) wingspan planned for the 70-seater. Mitsubishi plans to build the fuselage out of composites it helped develop for the Boeing 787 and use fly-by-wire flight controls.

Rolls-Royce, Pratt & Whitney and General Electric have all bid to supply the airplane’s fuselage-mounted powerplants, a decision on which Mitsubishi expects to make by the end of the year. Design targets place range at 2,110 nm for the MRJ70LR and 1,790 nm for the MRJ90LR, cruise speed for both airplanes at Mach 0.78, takeoff field lengths at 5,640 feet and 5,810 feet and maximum takeoff weights at 89,500 and 94,100 pounds, respectively.

Sukhoi | Superjet 100

Scheduled for first flight in December and delivery to launch customer Aeroflot in November next year, the airplane once known as the Russian Regional Jet–and derisively in some circles as the PRJ, or public relations jet–has found its place among
the world’s legitimate industry contenders. As of press time attracting firm orders for 71 aircraft, the Superjet 100 even drew a Western customer during June’s Paris Air Show, landing a contract for 10 airplanes from Italy’s ItAli Airlines.

It helped, of course, that Italy’s Finmeccanica now holds a 25-percent stake in Sukhoi Civil Aircraft and a 51-percent stake in a separate joint venture under which the Italian company’s Alenia subsidiary took responsibility for Superjet sales, marketing and customer support and the supply of composite parts. 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).

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 in March.

Another fairly noteworthy partner– program consultant Boeing–over the summer formally agreed to give Sukhoi access to its flight crew and maintenance training network and help provide parts warehousing for foreign customers.

Along with the 10-airplane deal with ItAli, Sukhoi counts firm orders for 30 Superjet 100s from Aeroflot, 15 from the AiRUnion alliance led by Krasnoyarsk Airlines, 10 from Russia’s Finance Leasing and six from Dalavia Far East Airways.