Efficient and reliable passenger aircraft engines are a preserve of a few in the Western Hemisphere nations and dominated by private companies from the U.S., U.K. and France. The latest entrant in the field is the Russians. Russian specialists in the field of the aviation industry have been able to completely build a large turbofan engine designated PD-14 without foreign components for its MC-21 medium-haul passenger airliner. The development of the engine is a part of the ‘importozamecsheniye’ (import replacement) plan for the Russian Aviation Industry.
The maiden flight of the MC-21-300 aeroplane fitted with the new Russian PD-14 engine was made on December 15, 2020, from the Irkutsk Aviation Plant airstrip and was tested for one hour and twenty-five minutes. PD-14 engine is designed to replace the Pratt & Whitney PW1400 engines due to U.S. sanctions. The PD-14 engine has already obtained the Russian type approval certificate. Certificate validation with European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) is planned at the turn of 2022. Completion of MC-21 flight tests with the PD-14 engine is scheduled for the second quarter of 2022.
The development of the hotly denied technology did come with the drama associated with commercial spying and international politics. Alexander Korshunov, a former business development director of Russia’s state-owned United Engine Corporation (UEC), was charged by the U.S. for stealing technology for the PD-14 engine. UEC, one among the 700 enterprises under Rostec, develops and produces engines for military, civil aviation and space programs. The UEC, along with another of Rostec companies, Aviadvigatel, designed and developed PD-14 for use in the commercial airliner Irkut MC-21. The Russians are also developing an engine with the designation PD-35 for use on future 250-to-320-seat wide-body twinjet aircraft like CRAIC CR929 (formerly Comac C929), a joint-venture between Chinese Comac and Russian United Aircraft Corporation (UAC). Both these engines can be used for military programmes too. Rostec and some of its enterprises, including UEC and Aviadvigatel, have been placed under sanctions by the U.S. Department of State’s Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act of 2017 regarding Defense and Intelligence Sectors of the Government of the Russian Federation. The U.S. has charged Alexander Korshunov of stealing the gearbox technology from the General Electric Aviation (G.E. Aviation) during 2013-2018 for the PD-14 engine program. Korshunov was arrested in August 2019 in the airport of Naples over an international order issued by the U.S. The U.S. tried to get extradition approval from the Italian court. The Russian authorities were also seeking Korshunov’s extradition accusing him of embezzlement and fraud. The Russians managed to extradite Korshunov, and he returned to Moscow in late July 2010, accompanied by Russian law enforcement officers under arrest.
Russia now plans to introduce Artificial Intelligence in the P.D. range of engines, including the PD-8, PD-14 and PD-35 engines. The Russians believe the A.I. is needed as a modern gas-turbine engine generates about two terabytes of information during a 4-6 hour flight.
The Russian carrier Aeroflot has ordered and leased about 75 MC-21, and Moscow plans to equip them with the PD-14 engines. “PD-14 engine is planned for mounting on the first serially produced aircraft which begins production in 2021,” said Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov in February 2020. The plane has been offered for exports too.
Klimov TV7-117ST turboprop engine
The Klimov TV7-117ST-01 engine is also made of entirely Russian parts, units and assemblies. It is part of an import substitution programme for manufacturing TV3-117 and VK-2500 helicopter engines. The TV7-117ST is the base engine to power Il-112V light military transport aircraft, and the civilian modification of the engine, TV7-117ST-01, is intended for the 64 seater Il-114-300 regional passenger-carrying aircraft which the Russians have now revived after the fall of the Soviet Union. First flown in 1990, the Tashkent Mechanical Plant produced 15 Il-114-300’s until it ceased to exist in 2012. TV7-117ST-01 replaces the Canadian Prat & Whitney PW127H engine.
Export of Russian Passenger aircraft engines
Russia has not exported its completely civilian engines so far, and these engines can be competitive only if they are exported. These engines’ worth can only be assessed once they are accepted internationally, and such projects require investment in both development and certification. Western companies rely on outsourcing to be competitive, which Russian engine manufacturers can ill afford due to sanctions making the engines costlier than their western counterparts. The total potential exports of the Russian made civilian planes is also in question.
In the past, Russia has exported its Tupolev Tu-20 and Il-96-300 planes to Cuba, North Korea, Egypt and China. The SSJ-100 regional jet is more successful with export intents and orders from entities in Nepal, Egypt, Kazakhstan, Italy, Ireland, Switzerland, Mexico, Thailand, Zambia and Indonesia. MC-21 has found interest in Malaysia, Egypt and Azerbaijan. The total export orders for SSJ-100 and MC-21 is around just 100 units. The only potential big order for the Russian commercial jets may be from Iran, which is under U.S. sanctions and potentially requires about 500 aircraft in the future.