Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Russia needs new aircraft engines which are accepted by Western airlines and lessors

Based on my current knowledge about the state of civil aircraft manufacturing industry in Russia and Ukraine, I can say with reasonable confidence that engines (also known as powerplants) are one of the key barriers to acceptance of current (An-148, Il-96, Tu-204, Tu-334) and upcoming (MS-21, Superjet 100) Russian/Ukrainian civil aircraft among Western customers (Note: MS-21 uses a P&W GTF engine as its standard powerplant, with the option of Aviadvigatel PD-14 engine). Western customers just do not trust the current breed of engines made by Aviadvigatel, Progress, et al.

I hypothesize that the acceptance of Russian/Ukrainian civil aircraft will continue to be zero/near-zero among mainstream Western operators until Russia/Ukraine:
  1. Either develop all-new engines that are at-par with engines from CFM/GE/IAE/P&W/Rolls-Royce/Snecma;
  2. Or equip existing and upcoming aircraft with Western engines.
Of course, neither of the above steps will help alone unless Russia/Ukraine also address the (many) other technical and service/support barriers (and possibly political barriers as well) preventing large operators worldwide from betting on these aircraft.

Aviadvigatel PS-90 turbofan powerplant (source)

What qualities are desirable in aircraft engines? I can think of these:
  1. Low fuel burn
  2. Low emissions
  3. Low noise
  4. Low vibration
  5. Low weight
  6. Low maintenance requirements
  7. Low cost of the engine
  8. Low cost of spares
  9. High performance (meets requirements of the host aircraft)
  10. High durability/reliability
  11. High resilience/safety/tolerance
  12. Automatic early warning systems (in case of malfunctioning)
  13. High serviciability (cheap/easy to service and repair)
  14. High availability of spare components
  15. High compatibility (supports many of the currently popular and promising upcoming aircraft models)
  16. High modifiability/upgradability (easy to downgrade, modify, or upgrade the basic design for different aircraft types)
  17. High recyclability (easy and profitable to comprehensively recycle old/written-off engines)
  18. Easy manageability (fully automated/computerized engine with easy management/operation)
  19. Compliant with global standards for aircraft engines
  20. Supports any alternative aviation fuels being standardized for near-future implementation
New engines such as the Aviadvigatel PD-14, PowerJet SaM146, and Progress D-27 are steps in the right direction, but Russia and Ukraine need to do a lot more - including, possibly, a consolidation of major engine-makers (akin to the formation of UAC) - before their indigenous engines are considered as a threat to Western engines.

A consolidation of major Russian/Ukrainian engine-makers looks as promising as PowerJet-like collaborations with Western makers - it'll create a large pool of engineering talent, funds, infrastructure, IP/patents and other assets, and hopefully result in new powerplants that bring sleepless nights to GE, Pratt and Rolls executives...

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