The consortium between China’s COMAC and Russia’s United Aircraft Corporation (UAC) has resumed preliminary design of the CR929 long-range wide-body aircraft, deputy general manager of COMAC, Wu Guanghui announced during the 2022 World Design Capital Conference in Shanghai.
The news seems to come in direct contrast to previous announcements claiming that construction of the aircraft had already begun in 2021.
The designers have begun preliminary design work and selected the suppliers for the fuselage and the tail section of the aircraft, Guanghui added.
The same announcement had previously been made in 2017, when the aircraft was unveiled at the Paris Air Show. Back then the designers had envisioned the preliminary design phase ending in 2018, and aircraft delivery starting in 2023.
Redesigning the aircraft
While the ambitious CR929 has faced multiple delays, there have also been several reports that work on the aircraft is now at an advanced stage.
In December 2020, COMAC chief designer Chen Yingchun said that work on the aircraft was going to plan and the 2023 deadline for deliveries was within reach. In November 2021, Russia’s AeroComposit announced that production of the first airframe had already begun.
However, the end of the preliminary design phase has not yet been announced, with some reports from 2021 claiming that it was still ongoing, albeit with plans to finish it soon.
According to Russian aviation news website Aviation21.ru, Guanghui’s announcement indicates that instead of finishing the preliminary design phase, Craic, a consortium of China’s COMAC and Russia’s UAC, has simply started the design “anew”.
This could be the result of recent disagreements between China and Russia regarding foreign-made components that were to be used in the aircraft.
Troubles due to sanctions
As various sanctions were imposed on Russia following the start of its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, doubts begun to surface regarding the country’s participation in the project.
In June 2022, Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Yury Borisov said the CR929 project hangs in the balance and Russia had been considering withdrawing from the project.
A month later, sources within COMAC told South China Morning Post that China is unhappy with Russia’s role in the project and could choose to work with Western companies instead.
The problems were mainly caused by sanctions, which barred Western companies, whose avionics, engines and other parts were to be used in the CR929, from delivering their products to Russia.
According to Aviation21, Craic restarting preliminary design work means that the consortium has decided to redesign the aircraft from the ground-up, using components only manufactured in Russia and China.
This latest development follows earlier claims that there had been issues with the design.
The aircraft was at the center of political controversy in 2020 following substantial disagreements between Russia and China regarding their roles in the sale of the aircraft.
The Russian company refused to provide COMAC with exclusive rights to sell the CR929 in China, a development which would leave UAC with only the smaller Russian market.
While the problem was eventually resolved, it resulted in the deliveries of the aircraft being postponed by two years.
The choice of engine for the aircraft also caused problems after initial plans to power the CR929 with a powerplant built by Rolls-Royce or General Electric became impossible due to sanctions.
Meanwhile, the Russian alternative, the Aviadvigatel PD-35, was only expected to be completed by 2025, meaning further delays for the jet.