Incongruent Rules Threaten EASA Certification of Russian Jets

 - January 7, 2019, 11:45 AM
The third MC-21 prepares for rollout from the Irkut factory on December 26. (Photo: Irkut)

The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has warned Moscow that a number of discrepancies in current European and Russian airworthiness legislation might result in the need for a considerably more-than-anticipated number of test flights in Europe for EASA certification of the MC-21 and modified SSJ100 jetliners. The requirement, in turn, might delay the issuance of internationally recognized airworthiness certificates for months, if not years.

The discrepancies result largely from the Kremlin’s 2015 decision to strip civil aircraft certification functions performed by the Commonwealth of Independent States’ Air Register of International Aviation Committee (ARMAK) and hand them over to the Federal Air Transportation Agency (Rosaviatsiya), an arm of the Russian government. The Russian government-issued Order 1283, dated November 28, 2015, and other actions that followed have widened differences between the European and Russian legislation bases to such an extent that a number of interstate agreements signed before 2015 lost their value and no longer apply. As a result, new and modified Russian jetliners will need to repeat some two-thirds of the flight-test program already flown in the home country to meet EASA airworthiness requirements.

A delay in EASA certification would not only affect deliveries to foreign customers because many Russian airlines, including Aeroflot, demand Western certification to ensure their airplanes meet global airworthiness standards. In fact, The promise of EASA certification for both SSJ100 and MC-21 proved a factor in Aeroflot's choice of those models over the Antonov An-148/158 and Tupelev Tu-204SM, respectively.  

Even though Rosaviatiya and the local manufacturers did make efforts to address the issue, they have so far failed to persuade the lawmakers and various governmental bodies to introduce, pass, and validate the changes necessary to keep the previous agreements with EASA in place. But the EASA warnings seem to have produced an effect, and Russia’s Ministry of Justice promised to approve changes proposed by the civil aviation team into the set of laws that correspond with those in use in the European Union. In turn, EASA did recognize Rosaviatsiya in a number of documents signed between the two, including the framework “Working Agreement in the Sphere of Flight Safety,” dated January 29, 2018.

If Russia validates in a timely manner new, EASA-harmonized aviation rules, certification of an SSJ100 modified with so-called Sabrelets and a strengthened wing could happen in the third quarter of 2019, according to official schedules. Rosaviatsiya hopes such validation happens before the planned signing in February of documents on mutual recognition of procedures related to flight testing and type certification.  

Sukhoi Civil Aircraft (SCAC) hopes that the new winglets on the modified SSJ100 will increase lift to drag ratio by 0.5, resulting in a 4 percent fuel savings and a 270- to 380-nautical-mile increase in range. The first airframe—msn 97006—flew with the Sabrelets two years ago, but a hard landing in windy conditions in July 2018 crushed its undercarriage. SCAC has recently repaired the first airplane and completed a second for the final part of the tests. The manufacturer hopes to win national certification in the first or second quarter of 2019, and deliver the first winglet-equipped SSJ100 delivered by the year-end. Severstal has agreed to become the first operator of the aircraft, followed by Mexico’s Interjet and Aeroflot. SCAC plans to deliver four Superjets with Saberlets this year.

Meantime, Irkut rolled out a third flyable MC-21 on December 26. The maker hopes for a national type certificate next year, and EASA certification in 2021. Should the certification discrepancies remain, the number of MC-21 flights needed with EASA inspectors aboard could rise from 40-60 to more than 300.