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Russian medium-haul airliner project moving toward design freeze
03 June 2014

Russia’s ambitious Frigate Ecojet programme — targeted at creating an all-new,300-seat,medium-haulairliner — has entered the project’s definition phase, with the aim of freezing the design of the aircraft by this time next year.

DOMINIC PERRY

Although no major system suppliers are yet on board, management remains confident that first flight will take place in around 2018–19, with entry into service following in 2021.

«It is a very tight schedule. We need to concentrate all our forces to fulfil this plan," says marketing director Sergey Grachev.

Grachev rules out developing a new engine specifically for the 1,890nm-range(3,500km) twinjet, instead preferring to see what the market can offer in the«18-25t»thrust class (39,000–55,000lb).

However, the requirements would seem to rule out thenext-generationpowerplants being developed for narrowbody applications, with Pratt & Whitney’s PW1100G for the Airbus A320neo capped at 35,000lb, for example, and the CFM InternationalLeap-1Aat 32,900lb.

Nonetheless, Grachev says it has started «communications» with a number of engine manufacturers to «discuss possibilities» and is aiming to finalise an engine selection within the next 12 months.

Proposed developments at rival airframers could spur engine development, says Grachev. Boeing has already hinted at studies exploring a replacement for the 757, with observers putting its thrust requirement in the 30,000–50,000lb range.

«The message from the market is that a project for this kind of engine will maybe become a reality," he says.

Frigate Ecojet will later this year embark on a second round of windtunnel testing — to be carried out at the European Transonic Windtunnel (ETW) in Cologne — as it looks to hone the design of thetriple-aisle’s highly elliptical fuselage.

Additionally, the company will produce a 14m-longsection of the fuselage to validate its ability to withstand pressurisation, says Grachev.

Meanwhile, it continues its search for potential production sites for the widebody. It has identified a number of possible locations across both western and eastern Europe — although none of these are in Russia — and aims to make a final selection later this year.

Discussions over investment in the programme with a potential «strategic partner» are also ongoing, says Grachev, with funding also coming from Frigate Ecojet’s parent Rosavia.