Reports indicate that this hitherto secret program (started in 2012) is now being made public. The China Youth Daily reports “Russia and China are set to develop the wide-body aircraft next year,” said Jin Zhuanglong, Chairman of Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China, Ltd. (COMAC) while attending the 18th World Management Forum hosted by School of Management at Fudan University. The proposed aircraft is to seat 300. The image suggests, the aircraft appears to have wings similar to the A330neo with a fuselage looking rather like that of the 787. Plus Trent engines with GE chevrons – even as GE has moved beyond chevrons.
Yury Slusar, President of Russia’s United Aircraft Corporation (UAC), says it will be built in cooperation with COMAC and financed by the both sides on an equal basis. A working group established earlier is expected to prepare the aircraft’s preliminary design this year he noted.
Details of the cooperation are not public, but Mr. Slusar speculated that Russia could take on the manufacture of the airliner’s composite wing, while China could focus on the fuselage. The engine, he thinks, could be left to an outside manufacturer since Russia has no production plans for engines of this kind. One can imagine the interest at GE and Rolls-Royce for this project. Mr. Slusar also said the plane might do its first test flight in 2021 and could go into production by 2025.
Although deals for a wide-body passenger aircraft and modern transport helicopter were inked by Moscow and Beijing on June 6, 2014 the track records at COMAC and UAC are not stellar. Both firms have projects that look great on paper but have been eclipsed. The COMAC ARJ-21 is already obsolete before its first delivery. COMAC’s C919 is also outdated already by the A320neo and 737MAX. UAC’s much admired MC21 has looked to be a great replacement for the 757, only to have been eclipsed by the A321LR.
So while the news of this widebody aircraft look and sound good, we are skeptical. Russia does not have the funding to keep UAC on track now – how could they even think about this new program? With an economy spiraling down we don’t see Russian support as credible. China certainly has the funding to get the project started but would want more of the work to compensate for this risk. Consequently we see an out of balance accord right from day one. Lets wait and see – it may be a long wait.