Putin Pledges $1Bln Aviation Center

APPutin and Medvedev listening to test pilot Sergei Bogdan during a visit Wednesday to the Zhukovsky flight-test center.
ZHUKOVSKY, Moscow Region -- President Vladimir Putin and his likely successor, Dmitry Medvedev visited the country's main flight test center Wednesday and unveiled a plan to help revive the aircraft industry, which fell on hard times after the 1991 Soviet collapse.

The cost of the project will exceed $1 billion, according to the Kremlin's web site.

The trip to the Zhukovsky facility outside Moscow also gave Putin and Medvedev a chance to pose with top-of-the-line aircraft.

Putin announced that a national aviation center would be created in Zhukovsky to allow for the integration of management, design and education, along with testing and limited production facilities.

The goal, he said, was to build 5,800 new civilian and military planes by 2025 and win 15 percent of the world market. The country has built only a few dozen aircraft since 1991.

"Aviation has always been the pride of our country," Putin said. "The innovative development of our economy is impossible without aviation."

He and Medvedev inspected the latest Russian aircraft, including the Su-35 --an upgraded version of the famous Su-27 fighter that made its maiden flight Tuesday. They also sat together in the cockpit of a Tu-334 passenger jet, with Putin in the pilot's seat and Medvedev as his co-pilot.

Sukhoi chief Mikhail Pogosyan said the Su-35 had a new engine, radar and avionics, allowing it to compete with the latest Western designs. Putin has stressed the need to maintain military might -- in part because of NATO's eastward expansion -- and Russia is aggressively marketing its weapons globally.

The government created state-owned United Aircraft Corporation to pull together the main aircraft plants and design bureaus.

AP, Bloomberg