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25th January 2019, Moscow

Hexcel and Toray hit by sanctions against Russia

 MC-21 aircraft. © Denis Fedorko

 MC-21 aircraft. © Denis Fedorko

A lack of high performance composites may lead to catastrophe for Russian aircraft manufacturing, reports Eugene Gerden.

US sanctions imposed against Russia could result in the suspension of the US$ 10 billion MS-21 civil aircraft programme, according to senior officials at the Russia Ministry of Transport and experts at the United Aircraft Building Corporation (UAC) – Russia’s aircraft building monopoly.

The first MS-21, designed to compete with Western rivals Boeing and Airbus and with 100% carbon composite wings, made its maiden flight in 2017 and the first deliveries were scheduled for 2020.

To date, composite materials for the programme have been supplied to Russia from Hexcel in the US and Toray in Japan, since the country lacks its own specialised production, but supplies from both companies are currently suspended.

The UAC and the Russian state corporation Rostec are considering several alternatives for the replacement of the banned composite imports and a priority involves the establishment of domestic production.

However, according to Denis Manturov, an official spokesman for the Russian Minister of Industry and Trade, the implementation of this plan will require huge investments from the state and the need for additional certifications, which may delay the launch of the aircraft into series production for 5-7 years.

Theoretically, the production could be established at the capacities of Elabuga, a leading Russian composites manufacturer, but this can only take place after the completion of all the required R&D activities in this field and purchases of machinery and equipment for such production.

In addition, there is also the possibility of establishing production at Rosatom, the Russian nuclear monopoly.

Another more realistic immediate alternative is to import composites from China, which may begin as early as next month. The Chinese-made composites however, are said to be of lower quality, being thicker and heavier than those supplied by the US and Japanese manufacturers.

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