‘Moscow Day’ at MAKS-2007 air show

Russia's Federal Space Agency has presented a project called Arktika at the MAKS-2007 air show. Consisting of four spacecraft, the system will monitor the Arctic in search of oil and gas. Meanwhile, the third day of the show has been dubbed Moscow Day. Ar

The air show on Thursday has been started by a Russian jet which has been displaying the Russian flag of a huge size, 18 metres by 20 metres, thus able to get to the Russian Guinness Book of World Records.

With some 40 countries represented, MAKS-2007 has become one of the most internationally attended events to be held in the country.

As engines roar and struggle to outdo each other, the participants of the show are vying for clients. After the previous show resulted in a billion dollars worth of contracts, the buzz is all about money.

About 60 business jets are sold in Russia every year, with prices ranging from $US 1 MLN to $US 60 MLN. As Russian incomes take off so do the sales, advancing by 10% each year.

We are expecting approximately 20-25 serious potential buyers here at the air show,” Marc Duchesne from the Bombardier company said.

Some visitors are comparing MAKS 2007 to Chinatown, not only because it’s very crowded but also because there are a lot of guests from the East. The Chinese delegation is the largest at the air show with more than 500 people.

“Citizens pay much attention to military engineering. Big countries must show their power,” Zhu Hui-Jun from the Northwestern Polytechnic University noted.

Rockets, passenger planes, even fighter jets are presented: the Chinese manufacturers have made a giant leap over the past few decades. But while Chinese specialists brought primarily plastic models of their aircraft, they show keen interest in real things.

“Taking pictures here and making copies at home – we are not going to do that. We are not spies!” Zhu Hui-Jun assured.

For the U.S. Air Force, it’s already its second 
            visit to MAKS
For the U.S. Air Force, it’s already its second visit to MAKS

For the U.S. Air Force, it’s already its second visit to MAKS. F-15 and F-16 fighter jets are present at the show, a Globemaster cargo plane, and a B-52 bomber as well. Nicknamed Stratofortress, B-52s used to covertly patrol Soviet borders in the 1960s. Now it’s among the most popular aircraft at the show.

Several deals have been concluded estimated at hundreds of millions of US dollars. On Thursday, Boeing  agreed to sell four of its 737 planes to Russia. And on Wednesday, a busy day for Russian aviation at MAKS-2007, Russian company Ilyushin signed a deal to sell planes to both Cuba and Iran.

Also Russian manufacturer Sukhoi and Italian air space engineering firm Alenia Aeronautica agreed on a plan to set up a joint venture to sell and maintain the Russian Super Jet 100. The headquarters of the company is set to be located in Venice. The Alenia Aeronautica company has facilities to ensure that the new Russian plane is able to sell on the European and U.S. markets. Vladimir Babak, President of the Sukhoi Attack Aircraft Concern, said that the reason for this foreign investment could be Sukhoi’s safety records.

“There are a few examples of SU-25s being hit or blown up in the air, and the pilots survived each time. One example being Russia’s former Vice President Aleksandr Rutskoy who was hit twice and survived both times. He is absolutely fine and healthy now. This plane is designed for the safety of the crew. I have been working with this plane for almost 30 years now and I consider it the choice for ground troop support,” Vladimir Babak commented.

Sukhoi have also said that they expect the first public demonstration of the Russian Super Jet 100 to be in September. They expect the first sale of nine planes in 2009.

Meanwhile, not everyone is sure in the Sukhoi Super Jet 100’s quick success. Production is behind schedule and the plane has not yet made a test flight. While Super Jet is grabbing the headlines, other Russian models are grabbing the sales.

But the President of Sukhoi Civil Aircraft insists the first model will fly this year and he is bullish about its prospects.

“We’ve surveyed the market for our Super Jet 100: by 2024 the total market for regional jets will be about 5,700. We are planning to sell 800 planes, 300 in Russia and the CIS and another 500 around the world,” Viktor Soubbotin, President of the Sukhoi Civil Aircraft stated.

That would give it about 15% of the market for mid-range planes, competing both with Russia’s Antonov and the leaders in the segment, Brazil’s Embraer, and Bombardier of Canada.

Industry insiders say it’s too early to predict whether the Super Jet will be a success.

“Particularly when you try to do something for the very first time, which is what Sukhoi are doing, building an aircraft of this type, the plane really survives first contact with the real world in research and development. My second speculation now is the cost. Developmental cost now is around $US 1.4 BLN, which is half-a-million more than an Embraer-170, 190,” Reuben F. Johnson, aviation analyst, Aviation Week, noted.

Sukhoi is one of Russia’s most successful aircraft manufactures, but only one company within the umbrella of the United Aircraft Corporation. And although Super Jet dominates the headlines, it has no firm orders and has failed to excite European clients, unlike Tupolev’s 204, which is tailored to the needs of low-cost airlines.

Ilyushin Finance on Wednesday announced orders for the Tu-204 from Cuba and Iran.

“Some Russian planes are very effective, like Tupolev-204, which is good for medium and long-haul flights,” Aleksandr Rubtsov, Ilyushin Finance CEO, noted.

And the principal shareholder of budget airline Blue Wings said that it aims to buy 10 TU-204s for its fleet this autumn.

Planes like Super Jet may be the hope for the future, but it’s the workhorses like the 204 that are bringing in the cash now. 

There are opportunities in today's market. Our main competitors are Boeing and Airbus. The MS-21 plane we're about to produce is a serious project with 150-170 seats. Of course, we aren’t that naive to think we might grab the market. Ten to fifteen percent of the world's market, plus sales at home, will be quite enough for us.

Oleg Demchenko, President of the IRKUT Corporation

Meanwhile, according to the President of the IRKUT Corporation, Oleg Demchenko, gaps in today's civil aviation market are helping Russian producers sell their passenger jets. Mr Demchenko also said the group has high hopes for its new medium-size passenger plane, the MS-21.

“What do you mean that we don't have experience in civil aviation?! Indeed, the IRKUT Corporation hasn't been involved in civil aviation construction, but the Russian industry in general has always been strong in that. Long before Airbus started producing its planes, we had the TU-154, IL-62 and IL-86. There are opportunities in today's market. Our main competitors are Boeing and Airbus. The MS-21 plane we're about to produce is a serious project with 150-170 seats. Of course, we aren’t that naive to think we might grab the market. Ten to fifteen percent of the world's market, plus sales at home, will be quite enough for us. Also we're in negotiations with the Airbus company and expect that some of their A-320-technologies will be implemented in our plane. Perhaps, it will even be a joint project,” Oleg Demchenko noted.

But the show is not just about aviation. There were also quite a few international space projects presented. There was a big press conference held by Roscosmos, the Russian federal space agency where the space programmes for the future were outlined. The emphasis was on the continuous close collaboration with European partners. It has also been mentioned that the main thing to do now is to improve and update the existing spacecraft, some of which have been in use for decades.