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China, Russia and India join the home-grown civil airliner party

China, Russia and India join the home-grown civil airliner party
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By Charles F. Moreira

PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) forecasts that there are strong indications that over the next decade, the commercial aviation industry may see not only more passengers and aircraft worldwide but also more industry players, and also that China is on an aggressive course to build a world-class commercial aviation manufacturing base, whilst Mexico continues as an important supplier to the North American industry and we could see more cross-border partnerships between global players.

Over the next couple of decades, PwC not only foresees growth in new markets for commercial air traffic but also that these growth markets will be in different parts of the world where demand has hitherto been low and the questions is which manufacturers will supply the new aircraft.

U.S. based commercial aircraft manufacturer Boeing forsees global demand for 35,280 new jet aircraft between 2013–2032, worth a total of US$4.8 trillion (RM20.48 trillion), with single-aisle aircraft accounting for most of that demand, and Boeing forsees demand for 12,820 new airplanes in the Asia-Pacific over this decade, or over one-third of global demand.

Not to miss the boat, new civil aircraft manufacturers have emerged in Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe to challenge the current global dupoly of Boeing (USA) and Airbus (EU); with civil aircraft such as COMAC C919 (China), the Irkut MC 21 (Russia), the Embraer E190-E2 (Brazil), the Mitsubishi MRJ 90 regional jet (Japan), the TRJ 328 and TRJ 628 regional jets (Turkey) and some others either having made their debut or in the pipeline to challenge the Boeing 737 and the Airbus A320 short to medium haull airliners, with all these new entrants claiming their aircrafts’ significantly improved fuel efficiency and significantly lower operational costs.

In development since 2008, the state owned Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (COMAC) rolled out its homegrown COMAC C919 medium haul, single-aisle, narrowbody airliner at its plant in Shanghai on the 2nd or November 2015, at which time it had recived orders for 517 aircraft from 21 customers, with the Shanghai-based China Eastern Airlines to be its launch customer.

With two high-bypass turbofan engines, C919 is a short-medium range commercial airliner is about the same size as the Airbus A320 and the Boeing 737-800, the most popular short-to-medium range airliners today. It can accommodate up to 168 seats in all-economy configuration or 156 seats in mixed economy and business class configurations. The basic version has a range of up to 4,075 km, while the enhanced version can fly up to 5,555 km. The C919 is designed for a lifespan of up to 90,000 flying hours or the equivalent of 30 calendar years.

Whilst much of the C919 is China designed and made, however some major components such as its LEAP engines are made by CFM International, a 50-50 joint venture between GE Aviation (USA) and Safran Aircraft Engines (France). It’s avionics equipment and some of its control systems are American, communication systems Japanese, soem materials used to construct its airframe are German and some other components are foreign made. However, the use of certain foreign-made components is not unusual, especially for a new airliner such as the C919, since even some American built aircraft, such as the Boeing 777 are fitted with Rolls Royce engines from Britain.

The COMAC 919 made its maiden flight from Shanghai Pudong Airport on 5 May 2017 and is expected to enter commercial service in 2018. China already is the world’s second largest air travel market, with expected demand for over 6.300 new planes over the next 20 years.

Video of the COMAC C919’s maiden flight in Shanghai, courtesy of the Al Jazeera You Tube Channel.

Video of the COMAC C919’s maiden flight in Shanghai, courtesy of the China Global Television Network (CGTN) You Tube Channel.

Meanwhile, on 8 June 2016, the Irkut MC 21-300, twin engined civil airliner was rolled out at its factory in Irkutsk, Eastern Siberia, about 10 years since its inception in 2006. The MC 21 -200 variant to come will be able to carry about 150 passengers. Also planned is the MC 21-400 variant. Depending on variant, the MC21 can carry between 130 and 211 passengers at ranges of between 5,500 to 6,000 km.

Irkut claims that its fifth-generation engines consume 20% less fuel, whilst its construction makes much use of composites to keep its weight down; both of which meks it more economic to operate, which can translate into lower ticket prices. Also with its fuselage being 3.81 metres wide, the MC 21-300 is wider than the Boeing 737 and Airbus A320, thus allowing passengers to walk past food trolleys, which has been a problem on many aircraft. Irkut regards the MC 21 as a competitor to the COMAC C919, the Boeing 737 and the Airbus A320.

The MC 21-300 made its maiden flight in Irkutsk, Eastern Siberia on 28 May 2017, three weeks after the COMAC C919 and 11 years since its inception and it’s expected to enter commercial service in 2019. So far it had received orders for 175 aircraft, including 50 from Aeroflot, Russia’s national airline. Other customers so far include Red Wings, Nordwind Airlines, UTAir, Cairo Aviation and Azerbaijan Airlines.

Irkut claims that the MC 21-300 contains only 5% of foregn-made components. It comes with a choice of either Russian-made Aviadvigatel PD-14 or American-made Pratt & Whitney’s PW1400G engines. The MC 21-300 which made the maiden flight was fitted with Pratt & Whitney engines.

Video of MC 21-300 maiden flight – a complation courtesy of AINtv, Russia Today, United Aircraft Corporation, Vesti and Sputnik You Tube chennales, with soundtrack courtesy of the Ruska You Tube channel

India too is in on the civil airliner race, with The Indian EXPRESS reporting on 17 February 2017 that the country had revived her civil aircraft initiative, which its National Aerospace Laboratories (NAL) had been shelved its SARAS light civil aircraft programme in 2009, following the ill fated crash of one of the planes, which killed three of its test pilots. The project has been revived after analysis of the 2009 accident revealed that the crash of prototype of the 14-seater SARAS was a result of procedural lapses and not technical issues, according to a senior official at NAL. The current plan is for a 19 seater SARAS variant, as a precursor to a 70 seat regional transport.

Video of Revived NAL SARAS programme, courtesy of TPF Scopes You Tube channel.

Ground tests of the revived SARAS’ Pratt and Whitney turboprop engine was being conducted at the Aircraft and Systems Testing Establishment in February 2017. A turboprop engine has a propeller powered by a small jet engine – i.e. a gas turbine engine, rather than a piston engine and unlike aircraft piston engines which are powered by a high-octane aviation petrol, whilst jet engines, including those used to drive propellers, burn aviation kerosene.

The revived SARAS is expected to make its maiden flight is expected this month (June 2017) but it looks like it will take India several more years to come out with a home grown civil airliner in the same league as the COMAC C919, Irkut MC 21, Airbus A320 and Boeing 737. though her focus right now appears to be on coming out small civil airliner to serve especially its small domestic airports and domestic air transport needs, rather than to compete in teh global market.

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