UPDATE – After four years and seven months to the day of its first flight, the Russian Irkut MC-21-300 has received its type certificate on December 28. The Federal Air Transport Agency Rosaviatsiya awarded the basic certificate after the MC-21 successfully concluded the flight test and certification phase with a dozen route proving flights across Russia in the past weeks. Irkut MC-21 gets type certificate after four years of testing.

The basic type certificate only applies to the -300 version with Pratt & Whitney PW1400G-JM engines and wings using foreign materials. Certification of the -300 with Russian-made wings as well as that of the -310 version with Aviadvigatel PD-14 engines, which was showcased at the recent Dubai Airshow, is expected to take another year. More certification tests are planned for 2022 through to 2023.

“This is the first important stage in the development of the latest domestic aviation equipment. Rosaviatsiya is ready to continue work on expanding the operating conditions of the aircraft and optimizing designs, including re-motorization to the domestic PD-14 engine,” Alexander Neradko, the Head of the agency, is quoted in a press release.

No details have been given for the number of flights and flight hours flown by the four test aircraft since the first flight of 001 on May 28, 2017. The second aircraft 002 flew about a year later on May 12, 2018. This is actually serial number 003 as the serial number 002 has been used for static tests, as has been 005. The third test aircraft 003 (serial number 004) first flew on March 16, 2019. Aircraft 004 (serial number 006) first flew on December 25, 2019. The first MC-21-310 flew on December 15, 2020. UAC said in 2020 that it hoped to win type certification by mid-2021.

No timeline given for EASA certification

From the start of the test campaign, United Aircraft Corporation (UAC), the parent of Irkut, has been working with the European regulatory agency EASA on getting European certification. EASA certification is key if the type wants to stand any chance of being successful outside Russia and in Europe. Irkut has stated earlier that it hopes to get EASA certification within a year from Russian certification. But during a media briefing at the Dubai Airshow, Director Sales and Marketing, Kirill Budaev, was unwilling to specify the time schedule. “We will see when EASA is ready to certify the MC-21-300.” He also said the UAC has no intention to get FAA certification: “The EASA certification helps us to get certification elsewhere soon.”

As far as flight testing has gone, no reports of any serious troubles have emerged from Russia in the past four years. Testing has been progressing at a slow but steady pace. The outbreak of the Covid-crisis caused some disruptions in the schedule during 2020, but 2021 has been quite active from the start. Especially after the summer, the MC-21 performed various longer flights to determine its final performance. For one, the flight from Moscow Zhukovsky to Dubai was used to generate as much data on the -310 that will help it during its own certification program.

The first MC-21 with Russian-made wings leaves the assembly hall. (UAC)

With its roots tracing back to a nineties design as the Yak 252, the MC-21 was launched in 2007 as a program to thrust the Russian aerospace industry to new heights. This can be seen in the composite wing design, which instead of being baked in an autoclave uses a technique called vacuum infusion that doesn’t require an autoclave. The very strong wing also allows for a very thin design with a high aspect ratio. US sanctions blocked the supply of US-made composites to Irkut, forcing the Russians to develop their own. While causing a delay to the program, the sanctions actually helped the development of Russian technology. The first MC-21-300 with Russian wings made her maiden flight on December 25.

These wings will require an amendment to the basic type certificate.  “In 2022, we will focus our efforts on expanding the type certificate for the MC-21-300 aircraft. First of all, we will complete the work on the certification of an aircraft with a wing made of Russian composite materials.”, said the new CEO of Irkut Corporation, Andrey Boginski. Later on, Irkut also plans to update the MC-21 with Russian avionics and other systems. 

UAC Director-General, Yuri Slyusar, says: “In fact, thanks to the MC-21, a technological revolution is taking place in the Russian aircraft industry and related industries. New materials for the manufacture of the wing have been developed and are being produced. The design, production, and testing of units made of composites have been mastered. Advanced technologies of aggregate and assembly production have been introduced. The participants of the cooperation on the MC-21 were united by an information environment that provides digital design and production. The aircraft will be presented in the most popular segment of the market.”

Entry into service is not expected until July or August

The MC-21 has 175 firm orders and “several hundreds of MoU’s”, Kyril Budaev said. This number has been static for some years as all potential Russian operators and lessors were early adopters when the type was offered. Aeroflot has fifty on order but will place the first aircraft with its domestic subsidiary Rossiya, which it intends to develop into a major player until 2028.

UAC and Rossiya signed an agreement at last July’s MAKS2021 Moscow Airshow to prepare the entry into service, which is expected to take at least until July or August. Andrey Boginski said: “We will also test the liner in high-altitude conditions, strong side winds, low and high temperatures. This will allow Rossiya Airlines to operate the MC-21-300 in any geographical area.”  

“According to the existing forecast, in the next twenty years, only in Russia more than 800 new liners of this size will be required. Having proved the effectiveness of the aircraft in the domestic market, we will enter the international market,” said Slyusar.

The MC-21 comes in the standard -300 version with 163 seats in a dual-class configuration and a 6.000-kilometer range, while still on the drawing board is the smaller -200 with 132 seats in a dual layout and a range of 6.400km. The maximum take-off weight is 79.250 kg for the -300 and 72.560 kg for the -200. Budaev said in November that no date is set when the -200 will be offered to customers, but he added that the shorter version will be the platform for the MCBJ business jet version that is also planned. 

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Richard Schuurman
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Active as journalist since 1987, starting with regional newspaper Zwolse Courant. Grand Prix reporter in 1997 at Dutch monthly Formule 1, general reporter Lelystad/Flevoland at De Stentor/Dagblad Flevoland, from 2002 until June 2021 radio/tv reporter/presentor with Omroep Flevoland.
Since mid-2016 freelance aviation journalist, since June 2021 fully dedicated to aviation. Reporter/editor AirInsight since December 2018. Contributor to Airliner World, Piloot & Vliegtuig. Twitter: @rschuur_aero.

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