Many in the west have pooh-poohed Russian aviation, despite the Sukhoi Superjet being a credible competitor, doing well with Mexico’s Interjet and now in service with Dublin-based CityJet. We suggest people do not under-estimate the MS-21, which may turn out to be more sophisticated than either the A320neo or 737MAX.
The MS-21, which stands for Magistrany Samelot 21 veka, translated to airliner of the 21st century, when written in the Cyrillic alphabet. With so many in the west calling it MC rather than MS, Irkut has given up the fight and now calls it the MC-21 after so many incorrectly named the aircraft, being ignorant of the Russian transliteration. Irrespective of what you call it, this aircraft truly is a 21st century design, using both innovative materials and technologies.
The engine choices for the aircraft include the Pratt & Whitney geared turbofan, the same engine utilized on the A320neo. But with a lighter and more modern airframe, the MS-21 will be more fuel efficient than its counterpart from Toulouse. For the domestic market, Aviadvigatel PD-14 engines, which are a less efficient ,but also less costly, can be used. Direct operating costs for the P&W powered version should be about 20% lower than similarly sized A320ceo and 737-800 models, and about 8-10% better than A320neo and 737MAX8.
A number of western suppliers are on the aircraft, supplying the latest technologies. United Technologies Aerospace Systems has major contracts for subsystems and controls. Avionics are supplied by Rockwell Collins and its Russian partner Avionika. Interior components will be coordinated by C&D Zodiac and other Zodiac units. The interior designs, from very large overhead bins to seats, look just as modern as those from western countries.
Technical innovations on this aircraft are significant, including what one western supplier observed as the most-efficient wing in its class. It is a composite wing for lower weight made by Sukhoi. The wing is mounted to a wing-box that will be the first out of autoclave composite structure of its kind in aviation.
The wing box, integrated stringers and skins, and spars, are fabricated by AeroComposit (a division of UAC) and layup is done with automated tape laying equipment from MTorres (Spain) and Coriolis (France). The stringers and skins are co-molded in one piece, with the spars and wing box fabricated separately. The co-molding reduces part count, streamlines assembly, and ultimately reduces final part cost. The innovation in the wing box is a major leap forward, as it would have been easier to utilize a conventional autoclave for the MS-21.
The Bottom Line
Many of the innovations behind the MS-21 design remain unknown. Combined with the economic sanctions against Russia by the US and EU, the MS-21 remains under the radar, and like the Superjet, slow to gain western acceptance. Currently, Cairo Aviation in Egypt, with an order for six aircraft and Malaysia’s Crecom Burj Resources, with an order for 50, are the only non-Russian customers. But if the aircraft turns out to be as good as expected, it should help rebuild the credibility of the Russian aircraft industry.