Chinese and Russian jets get western parts: COMAC chooses CFM, Irkut selects Rockwell Collins

China's C919 programme is rapidly gathering momentum, with COMAC selecting CFM’s new engine, the LEAP-X, as the sole western powerplant for the aircraft. The deal, worth at least USD5 billion, is a validation of the Chinese development strategy pursued by both GE and SAFRAN Group, which each control 50% of the CFM joint venture.

GE is already collaborating with COMAC on its new ARJ21 regional jet, which is powered by GE's CF34 engine. More than 1,000 commercial aircraft in China operate with GE or CFM engines.

This is the second major engine selection made for a future narrowbody this month. On 10-Dec-2009, Irkut selected Pratt & Whitney’s PW100G (previously known as the geared turbofan) to power its new MC-21.

The COMAC engine deal is expected to lead to CFM establishing a final assembly line and engine test centre in China, in a JV with AVIC Commercial Aircraft Engine Company (ACAE). The two companies have signed an MoU to that effect and are now conducting scope and feasibility studies.

The engine variant for the C919 will be designated the LEAP-X1C. Other parts of the engine, including the nacelle and thrust-reverser, will be provided by Nexcelle, a JV between GE's Middle River Aircraft Systems and SAFRAN Group's Aircelle.

The first LEAP-X is expected to be run in 2012. Certification is projected for 2014 and entry into commercial service by 2016.

The timeframe fits neatly, if tightly, into the development timetable for the C919. Any delay to engine development (such as the recent certification problems with MTU’s turboprop for the A400M), could be very serious for the aircraft’s development.

COMAC expects the aircraft, which will seat between 165 and 210 passengers (depending on configuration) to enter certification testing around 2014, and commercial service in 2016.

While the C919 is China’s first large commercial aircraft, the majority of parts (some reports indicating as much as 80%) for the aircraft will be sourced from western companies. US aluminum and materials company, Alcoa, has already been selected to develop the aluminum structural concepts, designs and alloys for the aircraft.

COMAC’s plan is to eventually increase the Chinese manufactured and sourced content for the C919 to 50%, or greater. A large part of this will be the development of a local engine, currently being pursued by ACAE. ACAE has yet to reveal if it expects this local engine, the SF-A, will be able to produce similar economies to those expected by CFM's LEAP-X (targeting a 12-16% improvement in fuel consumption).

Irkut selects Rockwell Collins electronics for MC-21

Meanwhile, the new Russian narrowbody, the MC-21, is also forging ahead, with Irkut, part of the United Aircraft Corporation conglomerate, selecting Rockwell Collins to provide avionics and pilot controls for the new family of aircraft.

Rockwell Collins won the packages together with Russian partner companies Concern Avionica for avionics components and Aviapribor for the aircraft's pilot controls. Rockwell Collins will provide engineering support and a suite of complimentary avionics and pilot controls.

Aircraft development will begin in early 2010. Aircraft manufacturing will take place at Irkut's plant in Irkutsk, Russia. Avionics development will take place in both Russia and the US.

The first of three aircraft variants is due to enter service in 2016. Configurations are expected to range from as low as 130 seats in dual class configuration for the MC-21-200 through to 230 seats in high density configuration for the MC-21-400.

Selected Aviation suppliers’ daily share price movements (% change): 21-Dec-09

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