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Frigate Ecojet: an alternative for ‘misused’ Western widebodies
13 August 2015

Airbus and Boeing widebodies are designed forlong-haulflights but often flying on short and medium routes for which they are needlessly heavy. The Russian Frigate Ecojet initiative names this ‘misuse’ and wants to develop an all-new, much lighter widebody airliner optimised for ranges between 1,900 and 4,500 km (1,025 — 2,430 nm).

Frigate Ecojet sees an opportunity in the widebody market for a lighter and smaller aircraft offering less range than the Boeing 767, 777 and 787, and Airbus A330 and A350. Due to their extra weight, the Boeing and Airbus widebodies are not very fuel efficient on short distances and costs of airport andaero-navigationalcharges are high because these are based on maximumtake-offweights.

Frigate Ecojet’s website shows a concept of a short/medium-rangewidebody airliner with a unique oval fuselagecross-sectionand seating 276 to 358 passengers in a three-aisle10- or 11-abreastcabin. Thethree-aisleconcept not only offers more passenger comfort, but also reducesturn-aroundtime at airports. Thanks to the wide oval fuselage, dimensions of the aircraft can be kept relatively small compared with traditional aircraft of the same capacity. It has about the same overall dimensions as the Boeing 757. The Ecojet is expected to burn 20 to 25 percent less fuel than other widebodies of similar capacity and thetake-off/landing charges airlines have to pay should be much lower.

The Ecojet is currently in its predesign stage. The idea is to develop an aircraft family. The first members of this family are the baseline ‘Frigate Ecojet — 300’ designed for 300 passengers and about 3,500 km range, and the ‘Frigate Ecojet — 250’ for 250 passengers and 4,500 — 5,000 km range. The aircraft will fly at Mach 0.82. Proposed engines are Russian PD-18 or modified PS-90A20 turbofans, but Western power sources are also under consideration.

Last February, scaled model tests were completed in the European cryogenic wind tunnel (ETW). According to Frigate Ecojet the tests demonstrated a ‘world-level’ lift-to-dragratio, good aircraft stability and absence of any problems associated with the unusual fuselage shape. Frigate Ecojet is working with Thyssen Krupp to define a concept for the assembly of the new aircraft.

The Frigate Ecojet is a private venture not funded by the state. However, it is not easy to develop such an aircraft in Russia. Therefore the Frigate Ecojet organisation wants to move from Moscow to a base in Europe, Sergey Grachev, Frigate Ecojet’s director of marketing sales, says in an interview with aviation magazine Flight International this week. The reason for this is that it is easier to develop and certify an aircraft according to EASA standards in a European city than to do this in Russia.

Grachev points out that a Moscow based company has to acquire Russian certification first and then to do 30 per cent of the certification work again to satisfy EASA. If the company is based in Europe, it can apply directly to EASA and after that there is little additional work necessary to receive certification from the FAA as well. Which city the company is moving to, was not revealed in the interview. The first flight should take place in 2018 or 2019 and entry into service in 2021.