China's state-owned aerospace and defense firm, Xi'an Aircraft Industry, a subsidiary of Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC), has delivered the first domestically developed AVIC Y-20 heavy-lift transporter to the Peoples Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF).
With a maximum payload of 66 tonnes, the Y-20 has been specifically designed to transport military cargo and personnel over long distances in diverse weather conditions. It is understood that the
PLAAF will begin replacing its current fleet of HY-6Us, which are based on the Cold War-era Tu-16 jet bomber, with the new Y-20.
An AVIC spokesman confirmed that with China’s immense domestic requirement, more than 1,000 Y-20s will be needed. This number is expected to enhance its market potential, including the development of a civil and export-friendly version of the aircraft, which would be aimed at countries currently using ageing Ilyushin transporters, such as the IL-76.
Alternative to the A400M?
AVIC’s head, Zhu Qian, was quoted as saying by the China Daily that design work on a civil version, as well as the development of a new domestic engine for the Y-20 was underway.
“Putting the aircraft into the international market, the manufacturer must meet a variety of higher and tougher requirements in terms of environmental protection performance and airworthiness
qualifications, not to mention unpredictable factors like shifts in international relations and intervention from other nations,” he said.
The plans for a civil Y-20 version coincide with last week's announcement by U.S. manufacturer Lockheed Martin at the Farnborough Air Show of an order for ten LM-100J Super Hercules commercial freighter aircraft by Brazil's Bravo Industries, which will operate the LM-100J for air cargo operations in Brazil.
If politically supported by EU member states, the China-built transporter could also be an option for the A400M manufactured by Airbus that is still facing severe teething problems. This is evidenced by the technical shortcomings of the A400Ms delivered to the German Air Force. Of the three aircraft out of a total order of 53 that Airbus handed over to the military up to now, two had to be grounded right after their arrival due to severe technical problems, leaving only a single unit usable for operations by the German Luftwaffe.
Nol van Fenema / Heiner Siegmund