S7 Airlines (S7, Novosibirsk) has been unable to acquire the much-anticipated Irkut-manufactured MC-21-300 narrowbody as almost all have been pre-ordered several years in advance by Aeroflot (SU, Moscow Sheremetyevo). But this is not necessarily bad, as their new PD-14 turbofan engines have such a short service life, S7 Group’s chairman of the board of directors, Evgeny Elin, said at a recent conference.

Speaking at the Russian Industrialist Forum in St. Petersburg last week, Elin said that the engines will have only 3,600 flight hours between overhauls, in contrast to the 40,000 hours of on-wing time typical of the Franco-American CFM International CFM56. This means the engines will have to be removed and sent for overhaul every year, implying more time on the ground and less commercial service.

Even the Aviadvigatel PS-90 turbofan that powers the Il-76, Il-96, and Tu-204/Tu-214 series has a period between repairs that is almost twice as long, 6,000 hours, he added.

The MC-21, for which the Russian flag carrier firmed an order three months ago, is currently expected to be introduced in early 2025.

Elin said that S7 had chosen the only possible path available to it - to maintain its fleet of imported medium-haul Airbus and Boeing aircraft as airworthy for as long as possible, an option that seems more justified from both an economic and a capacity point of view. Extending the operation of these Western aircraft under sanctions is possible if Russia masters reverse engineering, he added.

According to Russian government projections, 545 medium-haul aircraft will be operating in the country by 2030, including 340 Russian MC-21 and Tu-214 aircraft and 205 Airbus A320 Family and Boeing B737 jets.

“There are two problems: ever since 1917, not a single programme has been completed on time. The second problem, a more serious one, is that the key element of the aircraft is the engine. The service life of a Western engine is ten years, eight years in reality,” he explained. “So from 2022 [when sanctions started] we add eight years, but by 2030, if we do not learn how to overhaul the engines, there won’t be 205 foreign aircraft, but zero.”

Russia can focus on making its own engines, but in this case it is “guaranteed to always lag behind. We won’t have time to catch up technically; we won’t be able to develop the knowledge base to catch up with modern Western engines. Western companies are not asleep either - in 20 years they will release the next engine,” Elin said.

In this regard, it is advisable “to actively engage in reverse engineering - that is, to master and mimic advanced technology and extend the service life of the equipment we fly. An engine is not monolithic but consists of individual components [...]. Who is stopping us from taking individual components that we can make, that we can restore, and that we have enough money and engineering abilities to produce, and, most importantly, that we can prove in operation?”