Russia’s commercial aircraft program is in frequent trouble, whether from bureaucracy and ineptitude with after-sales support or Western economic sanctions that have halted the development of its more modern models.
Slowly, Rostec, the state-owned technology giant, and its aerospace arm, the United Aircraft Corporation (UAC), are reorganizing the MC-21 and SSJ-100 jetliners programs.
Last week, UAC unveiled two prototypes of the aircraft with a new standard livery, reinforcing the character of the product portfolio, now called “UAC – Civil Aircraft”, and which will be seen at the MAKS 2023 air show, in July, at the airport of Zhukovskiy, near Moscow.
The two jets feature an identity pattern with a white fuselage, blue inscriptions and a vertical stabilizer displaying the UAC logo, despite the aircraft being part of the Irkut Corporation.
“The new livery will be the same for all UAC civil aircraft prototypes, but our flagships in the regional and medium-haul aviation segments, the SSJ-100 and MC-21, were the first to try it out”, said Andrey Boginsky, UAC deputy director general for civil aviation and also director general of Irkut Corporation.
Russia undertook an extensive reorganization of its aerospace industry, which still had a structure from communist times, when activities such as aircraft design and production were handled by separate entities.
In recent years, UAC has merged several of the design offices such as MiG and Sukhoi and has concentrated commercial aircraft lines mainly with Irkut, which controls Yakovlev and also inherited the failing SuperJet program.
Developed by Sukhoi, the SSJ-100 proved to be a very efficient and capable regional jet, but whose availability has always been one of its weaknesses.
To get around restrictions on importing western components, UAC launched the SSJ-NEW project, an aircraft built only with local suppliers, including the new PD-8 engine.
Irkut is still assembling the first prototype, despite promises to put it into production as early as 2024.
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At the same time, SuperJet International (SJI), a joint venture between UAC, Studio Guidotti International and Leonardo, both from Italy, is trying to transfer the foreign arm of the program to a partner in the United Arab Emirates.
The situation is not clear, but it is believed that the SSJ-100, with western items, can be produced again in Abu Dhabi, aimed at export, while UAC assembles the SSJ-NEW in Russia, exclusively for local customers – and maybe some airlines from friendly countries.
The SuperJet’s now bigger brother, the MC-21, is at a slightly more advanced stage. The commercial jet with up to 211 seats was about to enter service with Pratt & Whitney PW1000G engines, but after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the US banned the sale of the engine and other components.
As with the SSJ-NEW, Irkut has a nationalized version of the jet, the MC-21-310, with PD-14 engines, already undergoing flight tests.
“These are the aircraft that will form the basis of the fleet of Russian airlines in the coming years,” added Boginsky.