Assessing the MC-21 future

Awaiting first flight

The MC-21 will be powered by two engine choices: the indigenous Aviadvigatel PD-14A and the USA’s Pratt & Whitney Geared Turbo Fan. The GTF is slated to be the first to enter service.

Ostensibly, EIS is scheduled next year with Aeroflot. Since the first flight hasn’t happened yet, LNC believes 2020 is a more realistic expectation and this may even slip.

In a series of articles, LNC’s Bjorn Fehrm provided analysis of the MC-21’s operating economics (which are paywall pieces) and a pilot’s report flying an MC-21 simulator.

Related articles

Few orders

Ascend shows 175 firm orders (Wikipedia shows 192), with a heavy concentration among Russian lessors. Only two of the dozen customers, Azerbaijan Airlines and Cairo Aviation, are outside Russia.

There are fewer than 12 customers, with high concentration among Aeroflot and Russian lessors.

The MC-21, by Irkut of the United Aircraft Corp., is the second quasi-Western aircraft. Like the Sukhoi Superjet SSJ100, the MC-21 is replete with Western systems.

Russian challenges

Russia’s, the Soviet Union, was a prolific aircraft builder but the aircraft—while considered among the strongest airframes—were not economically competitive with Western aircraft. Sales were to the captive home market and Soviet satellite countries.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the aerospace industry collapsed with it. Few aircraft types have been built. The first commercial project of any consequence, the SSJ100, was beset by technical and production delays. There have been a few notable Western sales, and by all accounts, the airplane is economical and reliable.

It was grounded for a few days in December when fatigue cracks were discovered in the tail section. Inspections quickly cleared the airplane for service.

But product support reliability remains a cloud over the airplane. The geopolitical situation in Russia, along with sanctions imposed by the West, make support questionable.

The MC-21 suffers from the same clouds hanging over the SSJ100. Delays already hit the MC-21 program.

Greater ambitions

The MC-21-300 is the lead airplane in the planned two-member family. A somewhat smaller MC-21-200 is planned.

Related articles:

Irkut is part of the United Aircraft Corp. consortium. UAC signed a joint venture agreement with China’s COMAC for the development of a twin-aisle, 250-passenger airplane to compete with the Boeing 787 and Airbus A330. The C929 entry-into-service target it 2026, probably an ambitious date given the history of the SSJ100, MC-21 and COMAC ARJ-21 and C919 to-date. The COMAC airplanes are years behind schedule.

For all the problems Russia has building airplanes today, it—and not the Chinese—has experience in building wide-bodied aircraft.

While the Chinese are notorious for entering JVs, only to milk the partner for technology and expertise before spinning off on their own—it’s possible this may be one JV that China has no choice but to see through.


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