x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Russia's aircraft makers spread their wings

If there was ever a one-stop shop for your aviation needs it was the Russian stands at last week's Farnborough International Airshow just outside London.

A KA-62 helicopter manufactured by OAO Russian Helicopters at the Farnborough International Air Show. Chris Ratcliffe / Bloomberg News
A KA-62 helicopter manufactured by OAO Russian Helicopters at the Farnborough International Air Show. Chris Ratcliffe / Bloomberg News

If there was ever a one-stop shop for your aviation needs it was the Russian stands at last week's Farnborough International Airshow just outside London.

From fighter jets and trainers to narrow-body airliners, executive helicopters to helicopter gunships, a resurgent Russian aerospace industry was out in force to catch the eyes - and the orders - of plane-buying air forces and airlines from around the world.

The country's reorganised giants, Rostechnologii, a huge defence corporation, the defence export company Rosoboronexport, United Aircraft Corporation and Russian Helicopters all arrived with first-time exhibits galore.

"For a few years we haven't participated in air shows with our aircraft because they were under intensive tests," said Alexey Fedorov, the president of the plane maker Irkut. "Starting with this Farnborough, we plan to start flying our aircraft at all air shows. Potential customers would like to see the live aircraft, not just the model."

With two of their traditional clients - Libya and Syria - now either not buying or not being allowed to buy, the Russians were out to do business, and after a season in the doldrums, their industry is resurgent. The Kremlin is buying again, with more than 400 fast jets already on order for the Russian air force, and the rising number of successors to the old Aeroflot are supportive of the country's latest venture into the airliner market.

The headline winner for the Russians this Farnborough, however, is Russian Helicopters, which announced it had signed an agreement with AgustaWestland, a Finmeccanica company, to design and build an all-new single-engine light helicopter for search-and-rescue, oil and gas services, transport, and other applications.

Russian Helicopters, launched out of the national rotorcraft industry in 2010, was out to underscore its civil market offerings with the international debut of its Ka-62 medium multi-role aircraft and the Farnborough debut of the Mi-171A2, an evolution of the hugely successful Mi-8/17 series, of which 4,500 are in operation in 80 countries.

Also on show was the new Mi-38 medium helicopter and the light Ansat, and a search and rescue modification of the Ka-32A.

"As to the commercial market for us, it's a practically new market," said Igor Pshenichny, the first deputy executive director for marketing and sales at Russian Helicopters. "So we are putting additional emphasis on this market now."

And the airliner makers landed, undeterred by the fatal crash of the Sukhoi Superjet 100 while on a trade mission to Indonesia in May.

"The MC-21 programme will see the creation of a short and medium-haul narrow-body aircraft family intended for both Russian and international aircraft markets," trumpeted the United Aircraft Corporation blurb. "MC-21 aircraft will allow a reduction of 15 per cent in operating costs when compared with current competitors.

"At the air show, a full-scale mock-up of the flight-deck and the passenger cabin will be mounted and displayed. For the first time, customers and guests of the MC-21 pavilion will be shown the mock-ups of the aircraft engines as well as the prototypes of the landing gear, composite wing box and optional passenger seats.

"Also for the first time, the Sukhoi Superjet 100 will be presented at static display."

Following the recently signed firm order from the Russian airline Transaero, there are 174 Sukhoi Superjet 100 aircraft on order.

"We also hope that the aircraft will sell in Europe and the North American market," added Mr Fedorov. "We performed a big market investigation with our partners, including Pratt & Whitney, and the consolidated assessment is for 1,200 aircraft."

Mr Fedorov said he did not expect to overturn the dominance of Airbus and Boeing in the narrow-body sector, but he said there was room for more players - Russia with the MS-21 and, probably, China's Comag.

The order book for the MS-21 is 110 aircraft, with options for 235. Mr Fedorov said Irkut could even consider entering the wide-body airliner sector, where Airbus and Boeing are by far the largest manufacturers.

"We have the potential and all the ambitions to go to the large-body programme as well," he said.

Russian military equipment is also selling well. Last year, Rosoboronexport reported deliveries valued at approximately US$12 billion (Dh44.07bn), up 16 per cent on 2010 sales, and a much better performance than the stagnant years between 2007 to 2009, when the annual sales were as low as $7.5bn.

The Sukhoi Su-30 fighter continues to top the Russian export list in terms of value, with last year's deliveries totalling 36 aircraft worth $1.69bn. India took 16 aircraft plus 10 kits for local assembly, Algeria and Vietnam received eight each and Uganda four.

Mikoyan designs are second in the export stakes, with its deliveries last year valued at $800 million. The lion's share of these orders came from India, which has continued to take newly built MiG-29K fighters for its navy - 16 have already been delivered and 29 more are on order. This year Russia is expected to export a further 50 Sukhoi fighters, including 30 kits, to India. Myanmar, Peru and Jordan continue to be customers.

Last year, Azerbaijan took four Mi-35Ms helicopters; Brazil six; and Peru two. Myanmar received four used aircraft from Russian army stocks after repair and refurbishment. Uganda acquired older Mi-24s, India and Afghanistan have taken delivery of improved Mi-17 transport helicopters with added attack capability. These feature modern glass cockpits and state-of-the-art night-vision systems, both from Russian providers.

Also, the Mi-17 military models have been recently exported to Iraq, Azerbaijan, Peru, Indonesia, Thailand, Bangladesh, Kenya, Sudan, Ecuador, Argentina and Poland.

And all this was just the kit you could see at Farnborough.

"In the last few years, we've signed a lot of contracts - most of which were for titanium products and newly built titanium alloy," said Rostechnologii's director general, Sergey Chemezov, as he watched Boeing's 787 Dreamliner do its aerial display.

"The plane that you and I just saw consists of about 20 tonnes of titanium products, all of which were made in Russia."

dblack@thenational.ae