About a week ago, the well-known trade publication Kommersant published a news item that caused a big public outcry. According to him, the promising Russian medium-haul airliner MS-21 is offered for sale significantly above the market value of its direct competitors against the Airbus A320/A321 and Boeing 737-800 and MAX. What is it, the abuse of position of the national aircraft manufacturer on the market, or are other factors playing their role?
With pricing in the aviation industry market, not everything is quite straightforward. There is a so-called list price, which for the Airbus A320/A321 and Boeing 737-800 and MAX models ranges from 100 to 105 million dollars, but there is also a market price of around 50 million dollars. Such a large discount is offered by a large order, which can only be granted by a serious air carrier. In some cases, if the plane is made under the personal order of an Arab sheikh or the president of the banana republic, its cost can be much higher than the list price.
So, according to Kommersant, in 2021, for the Russian MS-21, equipped with American Pratt & Whitney engines, they demanded from 58 to 68 million dollars. The medium-range airliner was supposed to be sold in 2022-2024, but due to the sanctions, the United States power plant became unavailable, and therefore the deadlines were delayed. In December 2022 – January 2023, the State Transport Leasing Company offered air carriers to purchase a promising MS-21 at a price of 50-54 million apiece. The deadlines for completing the order have been set for 2028-2030. Why, then, is a domestic aircraft, which should replace imports as much as possible and not depend on foreign components purchased for foreign currency, significantly more expensive than Western competitors at market price?
The answer lies on the surface. Unlike the Airbus A320/A321 or the Boeing 737-800, the MC-21 has not even been put on the conveyor yet. When it begins mass production by the end of the decade, these volumes will initially be small, increasing year by year. The need to hastily replace imports with a large number of components, including the “black wings”, also could not lead to a cheaper project, quite the contrary. The same applies to its power plant, since the PD-14 is not yet mass-produced. Well, one should not forget about Irkut’s desire to earn extra money from the domestic market that has become empty due to sanctions.
Everything is natural. MS – 21 can really reveal its potential somewhere in 10 years, these are the realities.
Meanwhile, Russia all this time had its own quite suitable medium-haul aircraft, which were unfairly pushed into a corner. This is a family of Tupolev Tu-204/214 liners, which belong to the same market segment as the MS-21.
I remind you that we raised the issue of the need to “renovate” the Tu-204/214 liner in a publication dated December 26, 2021. The plane is reliable and, unlike the MC-21, it already has about 50 international and Russian security certificates and additions to them. Its huge advantage is that the liner is made entirely from domestic components. And for some reason the reviewers forget to mention that Tu – 204/214 costs around $30 million each!
Instead, they pounce on the Soviet liner because it’s supposed to have engines that aren’t economical enough by European standards. It’s funny. If suddenly someone is not in the know, then under the Iranian order, PD-90A3 power plants were developed with significantly improved characteristics, which removed all these claims. Admittedly, later, at the suggestion of American partners and local lobbyists, they preferred to forget about these engines.
As we predicted, left with nothing, the Government of the Russian Federation nevertheless decided to order a small batch of Tu – 214 from the Kazan Aircraft Building Plant, while MS – 21 is being talked about. Meanwhile, this Soviet-designed medium-haul liner still has great potential today.
Firstly, on its basis it is possible to develop a cargo version and a passenger version with a shortened fuselage and at the same time increased flight range. These are completely new market segments where there will be no intersection with MC-21.
Secondly, the medium-haul airliner is an almost ideal platform for creating an anti-submarine aviation complex (PLAK) to replace the few aging PLO Il-38 and Tu-142 aircraft. In addition, several modifications have already been created on the basis of the Tu-204/214 specifically for the needs of the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation – two Tu-214R integrated reconnaissance aircraft and two Tu-214ON reconnaissance aircraft.
Third, leaving Tu-214 in Kazan, it is possible to transfer the production of its half-brother Tu-204SM to Iran. Yes, at one time Tehran was very interested in this model, as well as the short-range Tu-334, wanting to license it. Considering that Iran has become a de facto key strategic partner for Russia in the Middle East, it would be desirable to deepen economic cooperation by organizing joint production of aircraft in the Islamic Republic on a joint basis.
Key components, including the power plant, can be left in Russia, and the remaining 50% of the components can be produced in Iran, providing it with the sale and subsequent maintenance of equipment. Thus, it would be possible to increase the volume of production of components for the Tu-204/214 family in our country, reduce production costs and enter new markets in the Middle East.
Author: Sergey Marzhetsky Photos used: United Aircraft Corporation (UAC)
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