Tu-214’s Comeback: Tupolev’s Managing Director Vadim Korolev Talks Modernization and Strategic Vision

UAC and cooperatives need to deliver 600 civil aircraft by 2030.

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BUSINESS Online” of Tatarstan features an interview with the managing director of Tupolev, Vadim Korolev. In May 2021, he assumed the position, marking his appointment as the fifth leader of the organisation over the past decade. Tupolev commemorated its 101st anniversary in October.

Notable among the details disclosed by Korolev during the interview is the transformation of the recently established final assembly workshop at the Kazan Aircraft Plant from its initial purpose of producing prospective strategic bombers PAK DA in series to its current designation as a facility dedicated to the assembly of Tu-214 aircraft. This also brings us to question the fate of the PAK DA programme.

The Kazan Aircraft Plant (KAZ) is expected to commence production of Tu-214 aircraft using an automotive assembly line methodology within a maximum of three years. Therefore, the ongoing modernisation of the plant, initiated in November, is being accelerated. Some interesting background and excerpts from the interview were published. Please note the interview is translated and may not convey the authentic meaning.

The Background

As of the start of the 2010s, Tupolev found itself in a precarious situation. None of the newly proposed aircraft, which included the operational Tu-334 and Tu-204SM, were accepted into civil transport services. The Tu-204 production was ceased, and the Ulyanovsk facility was relocated to Ilyushin. The Tu-214 was considered prohibitively expensive and unsuitable for civil aviation. Tupolev ceased to be regarded as a civil aircraft manufacturer and shifted its attention to developing the Superjet and MC-21. The organisation completed two Tu-160 airframe sections for the defence sector to support the long-range and strategic bombers fleet. The Tu-330 military transport project held promise, yet it remained unclaimed.

In 2015, everything changed. The Russian leadership decided to reinstate Tu-160 production by modernising the Tu-160M and bringing all current aircraft to this standard. Before 2016, the Tu-22M3M project had only been the subject of discussion. Aspirations arose regarding potential military modifications to the Tu-214, such as electronic warfare and patrol aircraft. The future long-range aviation complex undertaking assumed greater materiality. The military modernisation of the Kazan Aircraft Plant (KAZ), a subsidiary of Tupolev, commenced in 2016.

Additionally, interest reemerged in the civilian sector. The initial optimism emerged in 2021 with the appointment of Rustam Minnikhanov, the President of Tatarstan, to the position of Chairman of the Board of Directors of Tupolev. Before this, he and his predecessor, Mintimer Shaimiev, were perplexed by the ousting of Tupolev and domestic aircraft from civil aviation.

Tupolev’s ties to Kazan, the company’s primary manufacturing centre, grew stronger as time passed. It was disclosed in 2020 that KAZ was preparing to conduct extensive aircraft testing. Rumours were that the organisation intended to relocate to the capital of the Republic of Tatarstan. Tatarstan officials recalled that the region did much to save KAZ during the 1990s when everything was falling apart. 

Following the cessation of aviation equipment imports into Russia in the spring of 2022, Minnikhanov was presented with the opportunity to implement his strategic intentions. His proposal to reinstate Tu-214 production following a 15-year hiatus was met with a favourable response from the Russian government. The plans of Kazan and Tupolev were met with widespread disapproval; however, the “debates” were resolved with the visit of the Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin to Kazakhstan in June of the present year. He indicated that the revival of Tu-214 was an imperative necessity and not the product of the whim of a particular company or republic. A commitment to allocate 41.8 billion rubles from the National Wealth Fund (NWF) and 42 billion in financing for the programme provided backing for the proposal.

Nevertheless, the “conflict of ideas” persists, albeit with a slighter veil. However, the recently initiated civilian modernisation of KAZ commenced a month ago. Additionally, this entails the development of the next generation of Tu-214.

Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin visits the Kazan Aircraft Plant.
Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin visits the Kazan Aircraft Plant

The Interview Excerpts

— Vadim Vladimirovich, even before one modernisation of the Kazan Aircraft Plant (KAZ), a branch of Tupolev (KAZ), has been completed, the second one has started for the construction of Tu-214 — new workshops were laid on November 9th. Which of these programs is more extensive?

— The modernisation under the defence-industrial program turned out to be lengthy — it has been ongoing since 2016, so its scale may not be as visible, but overall, they are comparable. By completing both, we will have a new plant with capabilities significantly different from the current ones. The program for the reconstruction and rearmament for Tu-214 is ambitious in terms of timing — 2-2.5, at most three years; otherwise, it will be problematic to meet the specified production pace.

— When will the ongoing modernisation be completed? It was planned to be done in 2020.

— The task is to ensure construction readiness this year, but one object will likely move to 2024. The deadlines are determined, in part, by the structure of the work itself. At the initial stage, we decided to prioritise reconstructing existing areas and then move on to constructing new ones. Meanwhile, it’s an operating production; you can’t shut it down, so contractors have been transferring areas to us in fragments all these years, moving slower than they could.

— What workshops are planned to be built for Tu-214?

— The first one is for machining: more than 100 machining centres will cover almost the entire range of parts for Tu-214. The second one is assembly and assembly; it will be attached to the huge final assembly workshop currently under construction. We will have a complex with a production line similar to an automotive assembly line. This principle is implemented in Irkutsk for the assembly of MC-21, Ulyanovsk for Il-76MD-90A, and Lukhovitsy for Il-114-300. Due to the tight schedule, we are starting to build according to an accelerated scheme provided by the regulatory framework and approved at the government level.

— As I understand it, the discussed final assembly workshop was initially intended for other aircraft (PAK DA, FI Editorial).

— Yes, we changed its purpose — it is now entirely dedicated to the Tu-214 program.

— It was announced that 41.8 billion rubles from the National Welfare Fund (NWF) would be allocated for it. Have the funds started coming in?

— Currently, at the initial stage, financing is done through credit funds.

— Will there be no money from the NWF?

— There will be. We are geared to maintain the work pace, so due to the time required to organise the receipt of funds from the NWF, the initial stage of financing is filled with loans. Later, they will be compensated with NWF funds. I remind you that during a meeting with Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin in June, there was talk of two stages of financing — allocating funds from the NWF and issuing bonds.

— A 42 billion loan was mentioned. In the end, it turned out to be almost 84 billion.

— Two programs coincided: to start production from 2025, 10 per year, and from 2027, 20 Tu-214 per year. In total, it is more than 90 billion.

— What do airlines want, and has cooperation on Tu-214 been established? It is already clear that there are difficulties with the implementation of the projected Tu-214 delivery plan.

— We are working intensively, but there are delays. Firstly, it’s not easy to accelerate due to the capacity of KAZ: before, it produced an average of one and a half Tu-214 per year, and now the task is to increase it tenfold. Secondly, the scheme for bringing resources to scale production can be called unique, so forming the corresponding rules took more time than initially assumed. This affects the terms of technical re-equipment — both ours and, as far as I understand, in our cooperation. Now, the necessary measures have been developed, and the money is flowing.

— What aircraft will be delivered in 2024?

— The initial deliveries will include the Tu-214 for Aeroflot in a special configuration.

— How many aircraft are covered by the contract with Aeroflot?

— The firm order is for 11, but the overall interest of the group is 40, and it is contracted with the leasing company Aviacapital-Service. The deliveries will be phased, following the rules of the most comprehensive program for developing Russia’s aviation industry until 2030. Today, we signed a contract for 11, received advances, initiated the production, delivered the first batch, and then the next ones will follow. We’ve received an advance for the first five aircraft, launched the procurement of metal, and started the production of components through cooperation.

— How many Tu-214 aircraft are currently in production, and at what stage are they?

— One is in the final assembly workshop. Others are at the stage of aggregate assembly and panel assembly. It’s worth noting that such work is initiated for 4–5 aircraft.

— Has cooperation in the construction of the Tu-214 been established?

— We have signed contracts with almost all partners even before receiving orders from carriers. The entire first tranche from airlines has been given to cooperation enterprises. We haven’t kept any funds for ourselves; we will use them for our own needs from the second tranche. The work is organised.

— Is there a need for import substitution?

— No, for most components, no development was required, just minor modifications. However, there are elements still in the development process.

— Is there confidence that ODK (United Engine Corporation) can consistently supply engines?

— So far, colleagues have confirmed the delivery in the required volumes.

— Will the engines for the new Tu-214 differ from the current ones?

— No, the PS-90A has been worked out, and colleagues in the engine department currently see no need for significant improvements. Yes, it can be made slightly more economical and add more thrust, but it doesn’t justify the required investments. If re-motorisation (re-engine, FI Editorial) is needed in the future, it will be with completely new engines.

— In June, you mentioned firm contracts for 20 Tu-214s, letters of intent for 67 aircraft, and inquiries from potential customers for 61 aircraft. Can you name these actual and potential customers?

— The firm contracts with commercial airlines were mentioned earlier. New orders include aircraft for the special flight detachment “Russia” (SLO) (RSD Rossiya – Special Flight Squadron, dedicated company for air transportation of Russian officials, FI Editorial) and other special customers. At that time, I spoke about 150 aircraft. This calculation is made until 2033 because we have programs that extend to that year, and by 2030, we plan to deliver 115 aircraft.

— Are special-purpose aircraft counted as new construction, or does it only refer to commercial aircraft?

— They are counted.

— In September, the media reported that the SLO would update its fleet, including the Tu-214.

— There is such a program, and for us, it is an important part of the guaranteed demand for aircraft.

— Who will service and repair the new series Tu-214?

— Any company certified for this type. Today, it’s “KAPO Avia,” KAZ, and “Tupolev Technik.” But both “Aeroflot” and Ulyanovsk’s “UZGA-Engineering” want to obtain the certificate. The operator will choose where to fly for maintenance.

The proposed scheme, where aircraft construction is under “Tu,” and marketing, sales, and after-sales service are controlled by “Yakovlev,” raises questions. The issue is particularly interesting due to the apparent competition between Tu-214 and MC-21.

— “Issue” is an inappropriate word. “Tupolev” is the core of the strategic aviation division of UAC, and in this part, we have very ambitious tasks and responsibilities. At the same time, we are working on Tu-214. In “Yakovlev,” as the basis of the civil aviation division, competencies in creating civil products and managing their life cycle, considering commercial airlines’ requirements, are consolidated. Today, there are about 160 Superjets among carriers. It took our colleagues a lot of time and resources to establish a system for their after-sales service, and today it is operational. In many ways, things like software platforms logically should not be created for each type but for a product line. It makes sense that Andrei Ivanovich Boginsky, the Deputy CEO of UAC for civil aviation and the CEO of Yakovlev, is leading the overall direction of civil aviation. Especially since Tu-214 and MC-21 do not compete but complement each other. I remind you that together, both UAC and cooperatives need to deliver 600 civil aircraft by 2030. There will be enough work and market share for everyone.

— According to our information, there has been a change in the chief designer of Tu-214.

— Igor Kabatov is an experienced person who has dedicated many years to working at Tupolev; he is our comrade. He faced personal circumstances. Tupolev has a strong design and production team. Continuity is not an empty word for us, so another worthy person from our team will continue Igor’s shift. Decisions have already been made.

— There has been talk several times about Tupolev moving to Kazan.

— Various ideas were expressed. I remember such a story. When Rustam Nurgalievich was appointed chairman of the board of directors of Tupolev, he came to us for the first time. He had about one and a half hours free, and in the end, we spent 6 hours showing him everything, both good and bad. He approached the window of Aleksei Andreevich’s office [Tupolev] (Andrei Nikolaevich did not have time to visit this office), and there was the Yauza River and a church. And then the bells rang. He said: “A blessed place, why leave from here?”

— We have such a proposal. The first direction is to create an aircraft with a two-member crew. It should be tested in 2026. However, we will keep planes with two pilots and a flight engineer: the military and special services require a minimum three-member crew. The second direction is to create a short version similar to the Tu-204-300. It could be an efficient aircraft for long-haul flights like Moscow to Vladivostok… And the third direction is a cargo plane. We are launching this initiative — we want to have something to show when the time comes. A cargo plane is potentially in high demand; for example, we have a request from an airline that would take ten aircraft right now.

— “Tupolev” has already created an aircraft with a two-member crew — the Tu-204SM. Simplistically, can you take and transfer this cockpit to the Tu-214?

— The Tu-204SM received its type certificate 13 years ago; it was a breakthrough, but today, that complex onboard equipment is outdated. I remind you that at that time, we decided to “shoot” with a super-good product — we started the MC-21 program, and about 80 employees who were working on the SM moved to Irkut (today renamed Yakovlev). As a result, the general aircraft equipment management system, which allowed the implementation of the two-member principle on the SM, developed into the MC-21, and today, we essentially take it and adapt it for ourselves.

— What will happen to the two Tu-204SMs currently in storage?

— They belong to the Ulyanovsk Aviation Plant. There is an interested party willing to purchase and restore them for operation.

— KAZ once had high hopes that it would be tasked with building the military transport Tu-330. Is the topic closed?

— Today, yes. We are focused on fulfilling tasks in strategic, special, and civil aviation.

— Several years ago, there were official statements about military modifications of the Tu-214.

— The aircraft has such a future.

— Information has also surfaced in the press several times that a contract with “Tupolev” for modernising 30 Tu-22M3s to the Tu-22M3M standard is about to be concluded.

— Currently, we are talking about a few aircraft, but we understand how and within what timeframe to modernise the existing fleet when the corresponding task is set.

— The Tu-334 prototype is still at KAZ. What will happen to it?

— The Tu-334 was a great aircraft in concept but was not brought into series production then. I am one of the few who flew on it as a passenger, including about 15 years ago when we demonstrated it to the “Tatarstan” airline team at Kazan airport. Later, we took its chief pilot and senior flight engineer to Zhukovsky and let them try it out. The impression was very good. We will definitely keep the machine standing at the plant; we won’t let it go for scrap.


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