Air Transportation: China Sticks It To The Russians Again


July 12, 2016: In July 2016 the Chinese Air Force received its first Y-20 air transport. Actually the air force has two but the other one is a late model prototype that is in service. This 220 ton aircraft is based on years of experience with the similar Russian Il-76. China ordered Y-20 development to begin back in 2006, after China cancelling a $1.5 billion order for 38 Russian Il-76 transport planes and Il-78s (tanker versions of the Il-76). The stated reason was because Russia tried to up the price 27 percent. China had been looking elsewhere, including urging its domestic aircraft manufacturers to come up with something. That process eventually led to the new Y-20, which one Chinese aircraft manufacturer was already working on, just in case. China has long wanted an air transport similar to the American C-17. An improved Il-76 seemed like a good option but Russia has to give up on an Il-76 replacement because of economic and political problems. +

The new Y-20 comes pretty close to what China was hoping to get from Russia. The Y-20 has a max payload of 66 tons and is more similar to the C-17 than the Il-76. That is on purpose what while the Y-20 will replace the current fleet of 195 ton Il-76s, China is also looking at the export market, which is more receptive to American than Russian transports. The Il-76 a Russian heavy transport that entered service in 1975 and can carry up to 50 tons.

The Y-20 made its first flight in 2013, when there were two prototypes being heavily used to work out any problems with the aircraft design. The aircraft is still a year or more from full production. So far eight Y-20s have been built and the air force recently received the first of many production models.

What China is aiming is something more like the C-17, which entered service in 1995 and has an enviable useful life of 30,000 flight hours. The 290 ton C-17 can carry up to 100 tons (including one M-1 tank) anywhere in the world because of in-air refueling. The C-17 costs about $250 million each. About fifty have been sold to foreign users, including Britain, Canada, Australia, and India. Qatar and the UAE each have six, while Canada and Qatar each have four. India has ordered ten. The U.S. Air Force operates over 200. China does not need that many Y-20s but it does want to get away from depending on Russia for heavy transports. Dealing with Russia can be difficult even in the best of times.


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