Sukhoi leads Boeing, Ilyushin in Russian Regional Jet effort

 - May 8, 2008, 6:34 AM

A day before the opening of last month’s Moscow airshow, Sukhoi, Ilyushin and Boeing signed a series of agreements on the regional jet program proposed in mid-April during Boeing CEO Phil Condit’s visit to Moscow. Dubbed the “Russian Regional Jet” (RRJ), the program is aimed at building a prototype in 2004, certification in 2005 and service entry in 2006 or 2007. First deliveries are likely to go to Aeroflot, which on August 13 signed a memo of understanding with the three manufacturers for 30 aircraft.

The most important facet of the agreement between the airframers is that Boeing stepped aside to allow Sukhoi to become the project leader. Commenting on this, Boeing’s vice president for cooperation with CIS and Russia, Sergei Kravchenko, said, “The RRJ will be a Russian airplane designed by Russians and built in Russia for Russians.”

Boeing’s role is limited to market research, helping in certification, forming the business plan and sharing with its Russian partners the U.S. company’s vast experience in communications with the global airline community. Sukhoi is now acting as the lead enterprise for the project, with Ilyushin’s involvement limited to certification issues and the design of some sections and components.

The RRJ will not be put together in Boeing’s design center in Moscow from the parts designed “at the best selected enterprises of the Russian industry,” as was announced by Boeing in April. Instead, this work falls on the shoulders of Sukhoi engineers.

Under the cooperative agreement, Sukhoi is responsible for aircraft design, development of business plans and series production; Ilyushin will handle Russian and U.S. certification; and Boeing is responsible for marketing, helping with U.S. certification and after-sales support through the company’s global logistics network.

The decreased involvement of the U.S. company in the project might stem from the revised market positioning of the new airplane. Sukhoi general director Mikhail Pogosyan said the RRJ will be available in three main versions, with 55 (short-fuselage), 75 (baseline version) and 95 (stretched) seats, respectively, and range of 2,970 to 3,240 nm. This relatively high range is being asked for by several Russian airlines, most notably those from Siberia.

Not surprisingly, two major Siberian carriers–Sibir and KrasAir–expressed their interest in the RRJ during the Moscow airshow. “A 70- to 90-seater with a range exceeding 1,900 nautical miles is what we need and have long been waiting for,” KrasAir general director, Boris Abramovich, told AIN.

The thrust of the two turbofan engines on underwing pylons would be uprated or derated to reflect the number of seats, allowing the same engine to be used on all three versions. Sukhoi has already sent requests for proposals to a number of manufacturers, including Pratt & Whitney, General Electric, Snecma and Perm Motors, and expects to make a choice within the next three to four months.

The general director of Russian state aviation and space agency Rosaviacosmos, Yuri Koptev, said the engine choice will likely be an existing Western design since there is insufficient time to wait for development of newer ones. But he indicated that the engine would be improved and put into license production in Russia.

During the airshow, Yuri Lastochkin, general director of the NPO Saturn engine company (composed of the former Rybinsk Motors, A.Lyulka-Saturn and UMPO), said his company is close to forming a proposal to Sukhoi on use of a “Russianized” Western engine, most likely the CFM56. NPO Saturn is trying to set up license production of this engine or at least its major parts, in anticipation of a large Aeroflot order for Airbus A320s.

Another Russian engine manufacturer, Perm Motors, was asked to bid with a derated version of the PS90A, which is also being considered for the joint Russian-Indian multi-role transport aircraft (MTA) project–also known as the Ilyushin Il-214, a twinjet offered to the Indian air force by Irkutsk Aircraft Production Association (IAPO), Ilyushin and Hindustan Aeronautics (HAL). An engine has not yet been selected for the MTA, with the Rolls-Royce BR715, Perm Motors PS90A, CFMI CFM56 and ZMKB Progress D436 under consideration.

Most likely, the same engine will be selected for the RRJ and MTA to reduce the cost of both programs. The RRJ project will not be allocated state funding, at least in fiscal year 2002, Koptev said, because “it is a commercial project undertaken by well off and well known airframers.”

According to Ilyushin general director Victor Livanov, talks are in progress with China’s AVIC-1 corporation on possible cooperation on joint development and production of a regional aircraft for the Chinese market, and such an aircraft could be a customized variant of the RRJ.