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Will Russia’s New Airliner Concept Catch On?
16 February 2016
Russian aviation is known for being a bit behind the times, and that is putting it nicely.
In terms of aircraft production, Russia’s most modern jet was designed in the 1980s, has four engines and still requires a third pilot in the cockpit. But one concept seeks to bring them into the modern era and compete with Airbus and Boeing.
A company called Rosavia has designed a concept aircraft, dubbed the Frigate Ecojet. Well, it certainly doesn’t have the poetic sound of «Dreamliner» — Boeing’s long-haul aircraft with which the Ecojet is supposed to compete. Airbus’ A350 XWB will be another competitor in this class of aircraft. And like many other Russian planes, the Ecojet kind of looks like a hodgepodge of designs from aircraft produced by its competitors.
The most unique thing about the Frigate Ecojet is its oblong fuselage cross section. Rosavia says its new plane will have three aisles, which means four seating sections going across the cabin. That’s unheard of, when compared to other current designs. We’ve seen two aisles, and spacious suites with double beds, and even a private butler — but never three aisles.
Renderings show ten-across seating (2-3-3-2). Ten seats across the cabin (3-4-3) can currently be found on several planes, including the Boeing 777, 747, and Airbus A380. Airbus can do 11 across, but we haven’t seen it implemented yet. And we really don’t want to, because it would mean narrower seats and less personal space.
The whole goal of the program is to make possible a high capacity plane, meant to fly short routes frequently. The Ecojet is planned to hold over 350 people, on par with the 777 and A350. The next question is how this plane would be powered. Boeing’s 777 currently uses the General Electric GE-90 (the world’s largest turbofan engine) or the Rolls-Royce Trent 1000. If this plane actually comes to market, at the expected size, the General Electric GEnX would be a worthy candidate. It will also power the Boeing 777-X, set to enter service in 2020.
Russia’s most recent jet, the Ilyushin Il-96 was first delivered in 1993, and only 28 planes have been built, according to planespotters.net. It is officially in production, though the last was delivered in 2013. The Il-96 has four engines, which airlines and manufacturers are trending away from. Four engines significantly impact the operating cost because they burn much more fuel in comparison to two engines.
A scale model of the Ecojet has been put through aerodynamic testing in Germany. Its catalog list price is only $120 million, equal to that of much smaller Airbus and Boeing planes, and significantly cheaper than that of the comparable A350 and 787.
Analysts say the Ecojet will require a $3 Billion R&D investment over the next ten years. It’s an ambitious project, though it’s not one I would expect to take to the skies — and if it does, we’ll only see it flying with a minimal number of airlines. The Ecojet is already late to market in comparison to its competition, which hurts its order potential because airlines order planes several years in advance of delivery. Its competitors are already in the air, while this one is still on the drawing board. But if it’s indeed true that the ovoid shape of the Ecojet is more fuel efficient, then we can see the incumbent manufacturers following suit.