Russia plans to complete the certification of domestic aircraft MS-21 and Sukhoi Superjet New with the maximum replacement of imported parts by the end of 2023. This means that in a couple of years Russian airlines will be able to start replacing foreign aircraft with Russian liners. However, the process of full rotation of aircraft will not be fast.
“The MS-21 and Sukhoi Superjet New programs are consistently moving forward, despite sanctions and unfair competition. Completion of the certification of the MS-21 aircraft with a domestic engine and the Sukhoi Superjet New aircraft with the replacement of 38 imported systems and components with Russian ones is planned by the end of 2023,” Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yury Borisov said at a meeting in Irkutsk.
The SSJ-100 with a capacity of 100 passenger seats and a flight range of up to 3,000 kilometers was created in Russia without a Soviet backlog. However, the car consists of 70% of foreign components. Therefore, work is underway to replace some of the components with domestic ones. SSJ New is a project to modify the Superjet-100 aircraft with maximum import substitution of components and systems, which was initiated by the Ministry of Industry and Trade after the introduction of Western sanctions against Russia. The share of Russian components should grow to 50-60%.
MS-21 is a project of a family of short- and medium-haul jet passenger narrow-body aircraft. This plane can carry passengers for 6 thousand kilometers. It is able to replace not only the Tu-154 and Tu-204/214 on the market, but also foreign Airbus A320 and Boeing 737 aircraft.
The course for import substitution of the SSJ-100 was taken, in fact, back in 2018. But in March this year, after the introduction of aviation sanctions by the West, Industry Minister Denis Manturov instructed to expedite the replacement of imported parts and the certification of a new aircraft, reducing the time to 12-14 months.
In 2018, the Russian authorities set a course to replace imported parts with domestic counterparts. In particular, it is planned to install the Russian PD-8 engine, developed by the UEC, instead of the Sam146 engine on the “russified” version of the SSJ New aircraft, in which a minimum of imported parts should remain.
“As for aircraft systems, everything is real. The only thing that can move plans for SSJ New is the issue of the engine. The prototype of the PD-8 engine has not yet been fully assembled, and it still has to be tested in a flying laboratory.
On the stand, the engine shows good parameters. But when it comes to such a complex aircraft device as an engine, not everything always works out the first time. You can remember what problems the European Airbus A320neo had with the engine, how airlines suffered with the engine for two years already during the operation of the aircraft: it had to be finalized, there were delays in the delivery of aircraft,” explains Roman Gusarov, head of the Avia.ru industry portal.
The expert does not rule out that if the certification terms are shifted with the domestic PD-8 engine, then the first SSJ New can be produced for the first time with Sam146 engines. This is the engine of a joint venture between the French Safran and the Russian United Engine Corporation, which is currently used by 150 SSJ-100s operated in Russia. In 2022, by the way, 10 such aircraft will be produced (although the market needs twice as much).
“MS-21 will be easier to meet deadlines. Firstly, there are fewer components that need to be imported or replaced with components from friendly countries. Secondly, the most difficult part of the aircraft – the domestic PD-14 engine – is already there, ”the expert believes.
If the certification of both types of aircraft is completed on time, then in 2024 Russian airlines will receive their first domestic liners. “This will mean the beginning of a gradual rotation and replacement of foreign aircraft with domestic ones,” says Gusarov. However, of course, it will not work to replace foreign cars with domestic aircraft overnight. This process will take more than one year.
“The plant can produce more than 40 Superjet aircraft per year. However, the demand for aircraft of this class today averages 20 aircraft per year. This is what the market needs. Therefore, whether the plant for the production of liners will be loaded to the maximum depends on the needs of the airlines,” the source says.
If the production facilities for the SSJ have long been deployed, then the production for the MS-21 has yet to be organized. And when the plant starts working, it will gradually gain volumes. “If everything goes according to a good scenario, then in 2024 five MS-21 aircraft will be produced, in 2025 – ten MS-21 aircraft, in 2026 – 20 aircraft, in 2027 – 40, and only in 2028 the plant will be able to produce 70–75 MS-21s per year. And then the airlines will be able to experience a noticeable influx of new mainline aircraft,” the source says.
According to the expert, it will take about 12 years to completely replace the current fleet of mainstream foreign cars from airlines, which is about 700 aircraft, with domestic MS-21s. In the first five years, 150 MS-21s can potentially be produced, over the next seven years (from 2029 to 2035) – 525 such liners.
However, it is rather difficult to predict how air transportation will change in 10–12 years. “According to statistics, before the pandemic, global aviation doubled traffic volumes every 15 years. Russia has tripled air travel in 15 years. If all the moments of crisis go away, and Russia continues to develop at a faster pace, then perhaps in a decade we will need not 700, but 1,000 or 1,500 aircraft. Then foreign cars will not leave the fleet of carriers, and we will talk about expanding the fleet with new domestic aircraft,” says the head of Avia.ru.
In general, there is potential for the development of air transportation even within Russia. “With our population and our large distances, we fly quite a bit compared to Europe. We can fly more,” the expert believes. But much, of course, will depend on the development of the transportation economy and the solvency of Russians.
In 2021, Russian airlines carried 111 million passengers. This is less than it was in 2019, when a record of 128 million passengers was set. However, last year a course was taken to restore passenger traffic. This year, the Ministry of Transport expects a slight increase in the flow within Russia – up to 90 million passengers (against 87.5 million last year) and a decrease in the flow in the international direction from 23 million in 2021 to 10 million in 2022. However, there are more pessimistic expectations on the market. Air transportation this year will be reduced by one and a half times – up to 70 million passengers, says Vitaly Vantsev, co-owner of Vnukovo and Azimut airlines.
However, all this is not a reason to stop the aviation industry. On the contrary, the sanctions agenda dictates to Russia the urgent need to reduce dependence on Western aviation concerns.
“Russia has many motivations to remain an aviation power. Own aircraft construction is necessary both from the point of view of strategic security and from the point of view of the needs of the population. We simply need equipment that can be operated in our conditions.
Because the vast majority of Western aircraft are not adapted for operation in harsh climatic conditions, neither in terms of range, nor in terms of frost resistance. We need our own aviation industry to ensure our own economy and ensure the connectivity and mobility of the population,” says Roman Gusarov.
After all, only for 10 Western aircraft Russia has to pay 1 billion dollars, which support Western industry, their jobs and well-being. Whereas this money could work for the benefit of the Russian economy.
The situation is aggravated by the change in the global reorganization of the world order. “When the world is divided into two parallel hemispheres, in the world where Russia remains, we will have no one to rely on in terms of aviation, except for ourselves. On the other side there are Boeings and Airbuses, but on our side, except for Russia with its scientific and industrial school, there is nobody. In the end, we will be able to sell not only oil and gas, but also our own technological products,” the source concludes.