At Farnborough 2018, Russian participants are prohibited from exhibiting military wares. However, Russian Helicopters' new strategy seeks to grow the civilian sector to offset a drop in the defense orders. Without expanding its civil business, the manufacturer would not be able to increase its share in the global market for rotorcraft from 12.9 percent now to 19.4 percent in 2025, as the Kremlin commanded.
Deputy minister for industry and trade Oleg Bocharov told AIN that the Russian government is keen to render “every kind of support” to local OEMs in their efforts to expand sales in the global marketplace. Bocharov led the national delegation to the Eurasia Airshow, held in Antalya three months ahead of Farnborough 2018, to attend the contract signing ceremony where Kaan Air became the first commercial operator in Turkey to select Russian rotorcraft. The company ordered three Kamov Ka-32A11BCs for delivery later this year with an option for four or five more. Bocharov said he sees this as another step forward for Russian Helicopters in expanding its sales to more of the world and building a wider customer base.
Since Farnborough 2016, the Russian civil aviation authority Rosaviatsiya has signed agreements on mutual recognition of national certificates with its counterparts in Brazil, Canada, China, Cuba, India, Indonesia, Iran, Italy, Mexico, Mongolia, South Korea, and Turkey. Earlier this year, Rosaviatsiya signed an agreement with the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) to expand and deepen interaction on certificate recognition and airworthiness issues.
“During the entire past year, there were no cases of non-recognition of our airworthiness certificates as foreign customers took delivery of freshly made Russian helicopters,” a Rosaviatsiya spokesman said. Moscow is seeking more agreements with various nations on certification issues and airworthiness by way of mutual trust to ease the way national certificates are recognized in the partner countries, he added. So far it has been going well; the only downside has been the low number of shipments actually made: a Mi-8MTV and a Mi-171 to Kazakhstan; and an Mi-26T and few Ka-32A11BCs to China.
Military orders continue to dominate Russian Helicopters’ backlog. Last year, the Russian defense ministry and foreign armies took almost 150 rotorcraft, while civilian customers took fewer than 70. Yet the company’s CEO, Andrei Boginsky, expects military sales to decline in the coming years, so that the respective share would drop below 40 percent. At the same time, he anticipates that a more aggressive sales policy targeting commercial operators around the globe will boost the share of foreign orders to more than half of the company’s production output.
After the peak of 290 in 2012, Russian Helicopters' production rate dropped to 212 in 2015 and 189 in 2016. Last year, it was up to 214 (according to government officials, the manufacturer has yet to confirm the figure), but Boginsky confessed that deliveries were roughly 10 percent less, since some shipments were postponed in this year's first quarter. Even with this, the company generated a profit of Rouble 27 billion ($430 million) against a turnover of Rouble 228 billion ($3.6 billion). The picture becomes worse considering that the manufacturer has been eating into its backlog, which stood at between 400 and 550 units around five years ago.
The Kremlin has been trying to ease the situation through several initiatives, including a program to support medical aviation in the country. The respective budgetary allocation is Rouble 10 billion evenly distributed over three years. Taking advantage of this, licensed operators arranged the hire-purchase of 34 Mi-17s plus 18 Ansats in 2017-18. These come new from the factories in Kazan and Ulan-Ude, outfitted with a standard medical equipment set.
Another initiative is to encourage commercial operators to hire-purchase new aircraft from government-controlled leasing companies. This is a part of the bigger effort to facilitate fleet renewal in the country. The Russian civil fleet numbers approximately 2,000 rotorcraft, with local products accounting for between 1,600 and 1,700. Half of them are more than 25 years old.
The large majority of the aging machines are TV2-117-powered Mi-8Ts. Although old and underpowered, the 24-seat Mi-8T is also cheap, fuel-efficient and easy to maintain, which retards the process of its intended replacement with the more advanced Mi-8AMT (Mi-17). Even though the latter became available in 1991, many operators have been hesitating to upgrade to the new production standard on financial grounds. Inside Russia, the Mi-8T is still logging more flight hours annually. The Mi-17 is expected to take the lead in the 2010-2020 time frame, though.
Two months before Farnborough 2018, Russian Helicopters delivered the first of a further-improved Mi-171A2 to UTair, the launch customer for the type. It differs from the preceding Mi-8AMT in having Klimov VK-2500PS-03 Fadec-equipped turboshafts, a new main rotor with fully composite blades of improved aerodynamic form, and an X-shape anti-torque rotor. Instead of three crewmembers, this glass-cockpit version can be flown by two pilots. Coupled with other cost-saving measures, this makes Russian rotorcraft more attractive to commercial operators.
Out of 12,000 Mi-8s/17s built since the type was introduced in 1965, more than 7,000 remain operational around the globe. Russian Helicopters believes that this year’s entry-into-service of the Mi-171A2 and its military version, the Mi-171E2, will prompt operators to upgrade to this new standard.