IN FOCUS: No more thinking small for Russian and Chinese airframers

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Russian manufacturers have persisted with the development of turboprop types, largely to replace ageing aircraft with seating capacities from 14 to 64 passengers. These aircraft continue to serve in large numbers on regional routes in the more remote parts of the country and the former Soviet republics in Central Asia, but their success remains as elusive as ever.

Only 14 Ilyushin Il-114s have been built since the 64-seat aircraft's first flight in 1990, despite the intention to produce a variety of variants for both civil and military markets. Only eight remain in service.

antonov an-140 airteamimages

 AirTeamImages

Orders for Russian built aircraft like the Antonov An-140 have been slow 

Antonov has experienced a similar struggle with its smaller 27-seat, high-wing Antonov An-38, which made its first flight in 1994 and was developed from the 15-seat Antonov An-28. Since then, only 11 have been built, with just three still operational.

The 30-seat Sukhoi Su-80 has been bedevilled by delays because of a lack of funds and only eight have been built since its first flight in 2001. None of these represent a serious effort to replace older types.

China is continuing with small-scale production of the 30-year-old, 17-seat Harbin Y-12 and is achieving some success with the 60-seat Xian MA60/MA600, but has no entirely new turboprop aircraft on the drawing board.

The Russian air force ordered 11 Antonov An-140-100s in 2011 for use as a troop transport and 6t cargo aircraft, and received its first aircraft in January 2012. This order has restimulated the serial production of an aircraft that has struggled to achieve any market penetration.

Aeroflot has expressed an interest in acquiring 16 An-140s. The 52-seat aircraft has been heralded as a replacement for the aged Antonov An-24/26 family, several hundred of which continue to be in operation in Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States.

The high-wing, twin-turboprop's first flight dates back to September 1997 and it gained type certification in Russia and the Ukraine in 2006. However, only seven aircraft are currently flying with operators in both countries and in Iran, with total orders said to be around 40 aircraft.

Production is undertaken at the Kharkov State Aviation Manufacturing Company in Ukraine and Aviacor at Samara in Russia. HESA, also known as Iran Aircraft Manufacturing Industrial, at Isfahan in Iran also manufactures the type, but names it IrAn-140. The An-140-100 is the basic passenger version, but other variants for cargo, convertible and VIP transport have been planned.

More success has been achieved with the Antonov An-148 twinjet and its stretched An-158 derivative, but steep price increases are causing concern. Rossiya, the second operator of the type after AeroSvit, with six in service, had announced that it would double its An-148 fleet by taking two more annually in the next three years. However, the Aeroflot Group, which acquired Rossiya in 2010, appears to have shelved these plans, saying that the new purchase offer is no longer value for money. Airframer VASO attributes the price increase to high production costs and large overheads.

antonov an-148 airteamimages

 AirTeamImages

The Antonov An-148 has been one of the most successful Russian built airliners in recent times

Rossiya has begun refitting its six aircraft with a 75-seat all-economy class cabin, to increase operational efficiency. Ukraine International placed the first of its three An-148 aircraft into service in August 2011 and this was followed by Polet Airlines in August, bringing the total number of operational aircraft to 11. New orders have been placed by Siberian carrier Angara Airlines for three An-148Es.

Leasing group Ilyushin Finance has also formalised a $420 million agreement for 15 An-148/158s for its new Panama-based partner South American Aircraft Leasing. The aircraft will be for the Latin American market. It is also understood that S7 Airlines is looking at the An-148 to boost its regional operations. Cubana Airlines has three An-148s and three An-158s on order, while Volga-Dnepr Airlines' commitment is said to be for eight aircraft.

Orders, commitments and letters of intent for the two aircraft types are understood to exceed 250 from customers in Bolivia, Cuba, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Myanmar, Russia and the Ukraine. But this total, however, has to be treated with caution. The total market for the An-148/158 family has been estimated at 550-650 units over the next 20 years.

The An-148-100A is the standard version with a seating capacity of up to 75 passengers. Extended-range developments include the An-148-100B and -100E. Antonov is also working on the 89-seat An-148-200, the An-148-300 VIP and several speciality versions, including the An-148-300MP for maritime patrol, and search and rescue missions.

The 99-seat An-158 received certification on 3 March 2011 and is ready to enter service. The An-178 stretched freighter, which is based on this type, is being developed to replace the An-12. The stretched variant will be able to carry either 18t of freight, 99 troops or 70 wounded soldiers.

Flight tests are scheduled to start in 2014. Market studies have indicated a worldwide demand for 400 An-178 aircraft. Production of the An-148/158 is being undertaken at Voronezh-based VASO and at the KiGAZ Aviant plant next to the Antonov Design Bureau.

merpati ma-60 airteamimages

 AirTeamImages

The MA60 is a stretched development of the Xian Y-7, a licence-built version of the Antonov An-24

The Harbin-built 17-seat Y-12 made its first flight 30 years ago in July 1982. The high-wing twin-turboprop continues to be in production in its latest guises as the Y-12 (IV) and the 18-seat Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-135A-powered Y-12E. The prototype of the Y-12F rolled off the production line on 19 December 2010 and made its maiden flight in mid-2011. Certification was planned for September 2012.

The Y-12F differs substantially from the earlier versions. It has a new wing with no external struts, a wider cabin with overhead bins along one side, more powerful PT6A-65B turboprop engines and a retractable landing gear. A cargo version with a large cargo door, which will probably be designated Y-12G, is also being built.

No firm figure for orders and deliveries have been made available and it is not known if any contracts have been signed in the past year. It is believed that the type's orderbook is approaching 200 aircraft from commercial and military customers in 23 countries.

Since entering service with Sichuan Airlines in August 2000, the 50- to 60-seat MA60 was said to have logged 202 orders (186 for the MA60 and 16 for the MA600). There are 45 aircraft currently in service with commercial customers in China, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, Tajikistan, Peru, Burundi, Congo, and Zimbabwe.

In December 2011, AVIC International announced orders for six aircraft from airlines in Africa, one of the earliest export markets for this high-wing aircraft. Orders were signed by Cameroon Airlines for three, Air Burundi for two and Air Congo International for one MA60.

Tajik Air received its first aircraft in November 2011. The MA60 is a stretched development of the Xian Y-7, a licence-built version of the Antonov An-24. The Y-7 first flew as the Y7-200A in 1993, with P&WC PW127J engines and Rockwell Collins Pro Line 2 avionics.

After receiving its type certification from the Civil Aviation Administration of China on 18 May 2010, two of the improved MA600 aircraft were delivered in December 2010 and September 2011 to the Civil Aviation Flight University of China. The MA600 made its first appearance outside China at the Dubai air show in November 2011 and the first export delivery was in spring 2012 to Lao Airlines, which has four on order. Lao Airlines already operates four MA60s.

The MA600 has Rockwell Collins Pro Line 21 avionics, an enhanced cabin and a relocated passenger door. No further progress has been reported of the proposed 70- to 80-seat MA700, which is believed to be of a completely different design. There is also no further news on plans to build an entirely new turboprop aircraft.

Nevertheless, China is the new force in commercial aviation. A forecast by China's Aerospace Industry Research Centre suggests that up to 5,500 regional aircraft would be needed in China over the next 20 years, of which 1,900 would be turboprops.