The Russian aviation industry challenged the success of the USSR, by Olga Samofalova for VZGLYAD. 09.08.2022.
Russia intends to completely rebuild air transportation. And the first important step along this path is to transfer Russian airlines from foreign aircraft to exclusively domestic ones. Western sanctions prompted our carriers to form the largest package of orders for domestic mainline aircraft in modern history. Is the domestic industry ready for such a challenge?
Russian civil aviation is waiting for "systemic rearmament" and the transition to Russian-made aircraft, Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday, speaking at the Eastern Economic Forum. According to the president, the country's airlines have formed the largest package of orders in modern history, for about 500 domestic-made mainline aircraft.
Interest in domestic aircraft is more than understandable and logical. Firstly, for two decades Russia has been creating its own civil aircraft from scratch, and finally we have not just the SSJ-100 - the first own aircraft since the Soviet era, but also an aircraft in the most popular class in the world - MS-21, and in an import-substituting option - with a domestic engine.
The sanctions strike by the West on Russian airlines, which were severely restricted from using Boeing and Airbus, spurred on to accelerate the transformation of domestic aviation. This is not only about the fact that airlines will now strive to switch to domestic modern technology as quickly as possible, but about the aviation industry, which will have to grow to the production volumes that were in the Soviet years, but which modern Russia has forgotten. Transformation in the industry means the creation of new jobs - both in airlines and in aircraft factories.
The main order for the announced 500 domestic aircraft falls, of course, on Aeroflot. The group has contracted 323 aircraft. These are 210 MS-21s, 72 Sukhoi Superjet-100s and 40 Tu-214s. To master the operation of new aircraft, it will be necessary to attract an additional 3.5 thousand pilots. Aeroflot's development strategy is synchronized with the program for the development of the transport industry until 2030, said the head of Aeroflot.
“Aeroflot’s fleet now has about the same number of aircraft as it ordered. Mostly foreign cars. However, every 10–15 years, Aeroflot-class airlines completely renew their fleet. Therefore, Aeroflot outlined its needs: over the next decade, change its foreign fleet to a domestic one. This is without talking about the growth in air traffic, which will require expanding the fleet, ”says the head of Avia.ru Roman Gusarov.
At the same time, civil aviation is quite capable of increasing production volumes not only in order to satisfy the record order of Aeroflot, but also the orders of other airlines, Gusarov believes. We are talking about a general order for the creation of 500 domestic liners, that is, the rest of the carriers will have 159 new domestic liners.
The program for the development of the air transport industry until 2030, worth more than 770 billion rubles, which was approved by the government of the Russian Federation in the summer, is supposed to deliver as many as 1,036 new domestic aircraft by 2030, but this includes not only three types of aircraft ordered by Aeroflot, but also the Il-96 , Il-114, TVRS-44 Ladoga, L-410 and Baikal.
According to the plan, only two SSJ New will be produced in 2023, but already from 2024, the annual production will be 20 aircraft per year until 2030.
The plant reached such production volumes, so these are quite real indicators. As a result, 142 regional SSJ New aircraft will be produced in Russia over eight years (Aeroflot ordered 72 aircraft).
As for the MS-21, the carriers will have the first cars in 2024. This year it is planned to assemble six cars. In 2025 - twice as many - 12 MS-21. And then every year the output grows: in 2026 - 22 MS-21, in 2027 - 36, in 2028 - 50, in 2029 - 72, in 2030 - 72. That is, the plan is to produce 70 MS-21 per year. In just eight years, 270 such liners will be produced according to the plan (Aeroflot ordered 210 aircraft).
The plan for the production of Tu-214 shows that from 2025, 10 such aircraft will be produced every year, and by 2030 the total production will be 70 units (Aeroflot's order is 40 aircraft).
Production volumes exceed Aeroflot's orders. “As you can see, there is a production reserve for other airline customers,” Roman Gusarov points out.
This is a serious challenge for the Russian aviation industry. After all, we are talking about a gradual output of 100 civil aircraft per year. And if we take into account other small aircraft, then by 2029-2030 the total production of civil aircraft in Russia should grow to a record 186 aircraft per year. Russia has never produced so many civilian aircraft in modern history. More than a hundred civil aircraft - this is the level of the Soviet Union.
So, in the 2000s, no more than 20 aircraft were assembled in Russia. In the 2010s, there were separate years when volumes grew, for example, in 2013, 35 civil aircraft were assembled, but it was not possible to keep this bar, and the production fell again. Another example: in 2020, 11 SSJ-100 aircraft were built, in 2021 - 12 aircraft. The release rate is one plane per month, but it needs to be doubled.
“Even if not 500, but only 339 aircraft ordered by Aeroflot are produced, this will already be a great success for the domestic aviation industry,” says Gusarov. Understanding that there is a serious backlog of orders for eight years ahead will allow the industry to see its prospects and invest in expanding production capacity without fear. Aeroflot, due to the transfer of the fleet to domestic equipment, also receives a development strategy for the future, because no sanctions will be able to put pressure on the company, ”adds the industry expert.
MS-21 is a medium-haul narrow-body (single-aisle) aircraft in the most popular and mass-produced class in the world. It is a domestic competitor of Boeing and Airbus. That is why this aircraft was subjected to "personal" sanctions. First, the West banned the supply of composite materials needed for the production of a unique "black wing". Russia solved this problem by switching to its own composite material. Therefore, the West deprived the project of American engines, but here, too, the project to create its own PD-14 engine lost its nose to the sanctions.
“MC-21 has about 180 seats, this is the most popular option. On this plane you can fly both in Russia and abroad without restrictions. Except for those countries that simply do not want to see Russian airlines. The situation with the Superjet is exactly the same. You can easily fly it anywhere. But this is an aircraft of a different class - it is a short-haul aircraft with about half the number of passengers, ”says Gusarov.
The SSJ-100 is a regional aircraft for passenger transportation on shorter distance routes where passenger traffic is more modest. In general, this is a niche product, and its demand in Russia has been low all these years precisely because long-haul transportation abroad has been developing. However, now Russia is betting on the development of interregional, regional and local aviation within our vast country. And this is also an important part of the "systemic rearmament" of the aviation industry.
“If we look at the Soviet structure of aviation, where Aeroflot was the largest airline in the world, then the Tu-154 was the most massive aircraft in operation, and it was supported by the half-sized Tu-134. Now it turns out exactly the same configuration. The Superjet-100 is half the size of the MS-21, and they will work great in pairs, complementing each other.
On regional routes, aircraft for 200 passengers are often redundant, they are underloaded, and it is more profitable to use a half-sized airliner, like the SSJ-100 and even turboprop aircraft of the Il-114 type, the mass production of which is also being prepared. But, of course, not on all routes where the MS-21 flies, the Sukhoi Superjet, which has a shorter range, will be able to fly, ”says the head of Avia.ru.
Aeroflot's portfolio of orders includes 40 Tu-214 aircraft. However, this aircraft is rather an intermediate stage. “This aircraft also has no flight restrictions and can fly all over the world. But it is unlikely to become massive. This is an aircraft with outdated technologies, in a number of characteristics it is inferior to Western counterparts and the MS-21. But it is needed as a support for the industry for a certain period, while mass production of the MS-21 will unfold. Our civil aviation needs only about 700 MS-21 long-haul aircraft. But by 2030, we will be able to replace only half, at best, two-thirds of the fleet of medium-haul aircraft, but not completely,” says Gusarov. In other words, the Tu-214 is needed to temporarily close the hole due to the lack of MS-21 for all airlines as a replacement for foreign sanctioned equipment.