Russia – China CRAIC CR929 aircraft project in turmoil

By 2030, the Russian airlines fleet should replenish over a thousand domestic aircraft. Russia plans production of SSJ New (Sukhoi Superjet), MS-21-310 aircraft, Il-114-300 and Tu-214 aircraft.

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Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P. Chacko is the publisher of Frontier India. He holds an M.B.A in International Business. Books: Author: Foxtrot to Arihant: The Story of Indian Navy's Submarine Arm; Co Author : Warring Navies - India and Pakistan. *views are Personal

Since 2014, Russian officials have had high hopes on the CRAIC CR929 (Comac C929) wide-body long-range aircraft project with China. But today, they say that the project does not suit them. CR929 is not mentioned in the new state aviation program until 2030.

The first prototype of this liner is being assembled in China. Given the large production capacity of the PRC, this airliner could help make up for the loss of the foreign fleet in Russia, but this most likely will not happen.

Russia is reducing its share in the project to produce the joint Russian-Chinese wide-body long-range aircraft CR929, said First Deputy Prime Minister Yury Borisov during the plenary session of the Engineers of the Future forum. 

 “We have this project going with China; it goes in principle, not in the direction that suits us. As it becomes an industrial giant, China is less and less interested in our services. We have our design bureau and vast experience in TsAGI (Central Aerohydrodynamic Institute). But the Chinese have more needs than we have today. Our participation is getting smaller and smaller. I don’t want to predict the future of this project – whether we will leave it or not, but for now, it is, in fact, going on,” Borisov explained.

China could easily exit

Russia and China held 50% share each in the project initially, and its total cost is estimated at USD 13-20 billion. Implementation-wise, Russia was a junior partner. China included Russia as certain competencies that have been preserved since Soviet times. Russia participates in the project, mainly with intellectual property, since it has experience in the production of Il-96 wide-body airliners, as well as with money. In reality, these long-haul aircraft will be assembled in China from Chinese components, and only composite wings and, in the medium term, PD-35 aircraft engines will be Russian when they are in production. The wings can be easily made in China, and PD-53 is not yet ready. This raises the risk of China going alone in the future. The Russians are not confident about enforcing the intellectual property clauses.

Earlier, the Chief of the Ministry of Industry and Trade, Denis Manturov, said that the project “will be reformatted to only Russian and Chinese components.” Whether the Chinese agreed with this is still unclear.

The main sales market will be in China, estimated at 1,200 aircraft in the next few decades, while Russian demand for such wide-body aircraft is, according to various estimates, just 50-120 aircraft.

The CR929 Project

The United Aircraft Corporation (UAC) is involved in developing the CR929 on the Russian side, and Craic, based in Shanghai, on the Chinese side. In the aircraft’s name, the letter C stands for China, and R stands for Russia. The plane was planned to be rolled out in three versions: the smaller one for 230 seats, the medium one for 280 passengers and the largest one for all 320. 

Russia is responsible for developing the wing console and its mechanization, as well as for the centre section. The Chinese work on fuselage, fairing, and horizontal and vertical tail. Currently, the engines on the liner are foreign.

It was previously assumed that the first deliveries of CR929 to customers would begin in 2026-2027, but the entire program is expected to go on until 2045. 

An article by Sina, a Chinese media house, writes, “China has confirmed the delivery of aircraft parts from Russia” and that “cooperation between the two countries has reached a new level.” Whether this is really so is not completely clear. The article uses assumptions more than facts. “If China and Russia will exclusively develop this aircraft, then it will gain an advantage in the competition with the Boeing 787 or Airbus A330. Western countries will not be able to threaten Moscow and Beijing with further sanctions and halt the supply of basic parts and components for CR929, which means that the West will not be able to influence its production and sale,” says the article. 

Russia goes solo

Russia may lose more than half of the fleet of foreign-made aircraft in two years due to their dismantling of spare parts, the U.S. Department of Commerce predicts. These aircraft account for about two-thirds of all passenger liners in Russia.

 Russian planners think that it is possible to replace foreign planes with domestic ones. At the beginning of the week, the government of Russia approved a new state program for the production of domestic aviation equipment. The total amount of its financing in the next seven years will be more than 770 billion rubles, which is roughly 13.5 billion dollars. At the same time, more than 150 billion rubles will be allocated by the end of 2022.

By 2030, the Russian airlines fleet should replenish over a thousand domestic aircraft. Among them are about 140 SSJ New (Sukhoi Superjet), 270 MS-21-310 aircraft, 70 Il-114-300 and Tu-214 aircraft. In addition, a large volume of deliveries of small-sized aircraft is envisaged: TVRS-44 Ladoga, L-410 and Baikal (LMS-901). Previously Frontier India had written that Russian Planes are set to replace the Western and U.S. ones.

A separate block of the program is devoted to the production of civil aircraft engines. In total, by 2030, it is planned to produce almost 5,000 engines for aeroplanes and helicopters.

“Another important issue is the state of aviation industry enterprises. There are interesting solutions and experienced personnel, but the production base often needs to be updated,” said Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin. According to him, many companies are faced with a shortage of components, materials, and critical technologies because of the sanctions.

Meanwhile, the Russian government has approved the dismantling of foreign aircraft for spare parts. “Taking into account the existing redundancy of carrying capacity, in order to cover the need for air transportation, the partial dismantling of aircraft of some part of the aircraft fleet is acceptable. As a result, at least 70% of the foreign aircraft fleet will remain in operation by the end of 2025, which corresponds to the projected capacity needs,” the state program says. This forecast of the Russian government is radically different from the forecasts of the U.S. Department of Commerce. It is not clear how the Russians plan to update the software.

When sanctions were introduced against Russia, the country had 817 foreign aircraft, and another 470 aircraft manufactured in Russia and the USSR were in operation.


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