The joint Sino-Russian venture building a widebody aircraft to rival Airbus and Boeing is facing fresh delays. The CRAIC CR929 had been scheduled to fly in 2025 for delivery in 2027. Last week, the Russian side of the venture confirmed it is now facing further delays and won’t be ready for delivery until 2028 or 2029 at the earliest. A breakdown in communication between the two nations is thought to have contributed to the delays.
The CR929 has been long-awaited by many. There are few manufacturers to rival Boeing and Airbus. China and Russia have been looking to collaborate on a widebody aircraft for years. The program began in China in 2011. After years of discussion, a joint venture with the Russians was announced in 2017. China is relying on Russia’s advanced knowledge of aircraft design, while Russia is counting on China for resources and financing.
While this sounds like a perfect combination, the program has been fraught with difficulties. The latest in a string of issues were confirmed by Ravil Khakimov, general director of Irkut, the Russian side of the venture. According to airway1.com, speaking to the Russian government last week, he said, “there are difficulties in working together with Chinese partners.”
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Working across two countries
Part of the issue arises from the fact that the wings will be built in Russia, while China will manufacture the fuselage. Designing and engineering an aircraft is complicated when done in one country, using one language. Cross-border communication is an added complication to an already difficult problem.
According to Khakimov, the program has faced issues “collecting and analyzing proposals from all suppliers to determine the final configuration of the aircraft.” Without a final design, there are no contractors or supplies. Currently, there is also no real plan for the engines. The program was going to use either a Rolls-Royce of GE design. Then a new option of designing a new engine was introduced.
Even if the two countries can sort out their differences to come up with a fully-designed and engineered aircraft, there are other problems to solve. As it stands, China is set to have exclusive rights to sell the CR929 to the Chinese market. In comparison, Russia will be able to sell to other global markets.
Ongoing rights dispute
COMAC, the Chinese part of the joint venture, wants exclusive rights to the Chinese market, which is growing at a faster pace than other markets. Irkut will sell to the rest of the world but will compete directly with Boeing’s 777 and Airbus’ A350. According to Irkut, the Russian market can only expect to sell between 50 and 120 aircraft. By contrast, the Chinese market is growing, and COMAC can expect to sell over 450 aircraft.
Despite these difficulties, the Russian government has said it will continue to put resourcing and funding into the project with the hopes of resolving any issues. China has yet to comment on the rumored difficulties.
With so many ongoing issues to be resolved, it doesn’t come as a surprise to many that the program is facing further delays. Unless there are some significant changes to internal communication, even the new target of delivery in 2028 seems very close.