China Drops Russian Firms from Joint Airliner Project

cr929 airliner
Paris Air Show 2017 Comac C929 | Photo: Wikipedia

Beijing, November 7, 2023 – Beijing has made a significant strategic shift by quietly excluding Russian firms from its ambitious project to develop a new intercontinental widebody airliner, the CR929. This decision has come as a response to multiple delays caused by Western sanctions imposed on Russia in the aftermath of its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

The collaborative effort between Moscow and Beijing aimed to construct Russia’s first wide-body airliner since the Soviet era, with Russia’s United Aircraft Corporation leading its part of the project. The CR929 airliner was expected to become a strong contender against intercontinental aircraft manufactured by industry giants Boeing and Airbus, boasting a capacity of 250 to 350 seats and an impressive range of 12,000 kilometers.

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However, Russia’s aerospace industry faced continuous challenges due to sanctions, resulting in repeated setbacks on the Russian side. This led to a pivotal decision by China, as reported by the South China Morning Post, to exclude Russian partners from the CR929 airliner project.

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The CR929, originally denoting the collaboration between both countries (C for China and R for Russia), has now been rebranded as the C929, erasing any reference to Russia’s involvement. The Chinese developer of the airliner, the Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (COMAC), has shifted its focus to promote the aircraft as a solely Chinese development, omitting any mention of Russia.

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At a recent conference organized by the Chinese Air Transport Association (CATA), COMAC’s Vice President, Qi Xuefeng, discussed the project’s advancement, notably absent of any reference to Russia. The South China Morning Post further noted that Russia was conspicuously absent during the official launch of the C929’s special laboratory in September.

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Russia’s intended role was to construct airframes and contribute to the development of aircraft engines. However, Russia’s United Engine Building Corporation, a part of Rostech, will no longer be part of the project. Moreover, COMAC has chosen to adopt German and American components instead of Russian-made landing gear.

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The Global Times has reported that China is now moving forward with the aircraft’s development independently, with Russia participating as a system and technology provider. The decision to replace most Russian components with Western counterparts, despite causing delays, reflects China’s strategic move in response to the ongoing situation following the Russian invasion and Western sanctions.

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