China’s AECC Commercial Aircraft Engine Company and Russia’s United Engine Corporation (UEC) have signed a memorandum of understanding to jointly develop an engine for the new C929 (also known as the LRWBA) wide-body aircraft program, a $13 billion joint-venture between the Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (COMAC) and Russia’s United Aircraft Corporation (UAC).
“The signing of the memorandum on the development of the engine for the LRWBA is a milestone for the civil aviation of Russia and China,” said Rostec CEO Sergey Chemezov. “It's not just a matter of being competitive; it is a matter of technological independence for our countries. Our ultimate goal is the creation of our own powerful world-class engine certified in accordance with the highest international standards.”
The MOU outlines Russia-China collaboration on engine research & development, architecture, and technical specifications. AECC and UEC plan to begin testing the engine in 2022 followed by entry into service in 2027.
The C929 is a proposed 250-280 seat wide-body aircraft. The first flight is expected in 2023 with entry into service in 2026.
Independence from western suppliers
China has ambitions to catch up to (and ultimately surpass) the western world’s commercial aircraft production capabilities. COMAC is currently testing the 158 seat C919 aircraft, a direct challenge to the Boeing 737 and the Airbus A320 hegemony.
While made from predominantly western parts and systems, such as CFM LEAP engines, the development and production of the C919 provides COMAC and other Chinese aerospace firms with a solid knowledge base and foundation for the development of future aircraft. The C919 has been marred by countless delays but completed its first flight this past spring.
Like China, Russia has ambitions of its own to become a major player in the global commercial aircraft market. Russia is still farther ahead than China in both technical know-how and manufacturing and currently has two commercial aircraft in production: the 100-seat Sukhoi SuperJet 100 and the 164-seat Irkut MC-21, which flew for the first time in May. Both the SSJ100 and the MC-21 have struggled to attract orders. Unlike China, Russia must derive a majority of orders from foreign markets due to the small size of Russian carriers and lessors.
The C929 is an attempt by both Russia and China to liberate themselves from the Airbus-Boeing duopoly over large commercial aircraft. However, like the C919, the C929 will be built in conjunction with many western suppliers. In fact, the C929 aircraft will have two powerplants available for customers: a western engine (GE or Rolls-Royce) and the AECC/UEC engine announced today.
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