One of the highlights of the MAKS Air Show in Moscow is the positive news regarding the Irkut MC-21, an all new technology narrow body aircraft to be powered by the Pratt & Whitney Geared Turbofan for Western markets. The first PW1400G engine has already been delivered to Irkut, and the aircraft is reaching design maturity in preparation for its first flight scheduled for April 2016.
The MC-21 will also be offered with Aviadvigatel PD-14 engines, scheduled to enter service after the PW1400G.
Reports from MAKS indicate that the MC-21 will meet its initial weight goals, and that the design is now firm. Of particular interest in this design is the wing, which will be constructed from low-temperature “out of autoclave” composite materials. Developed by a team from Irkut, AeroComposites, Diamond Aircraft and FACC, the new wing will be an industry leader in technology.
With the weight of the aircraft under control, and the performance of the PW1400G engines now well understood from prior programs, Irkut is confident of the efficiency and performance of the new aircraft, which will be better than competing re-engined programs from Airbus and Boeing. Irkut will introduce the 180 seat MC-21-300 as its initial model, followed by the 150 seat MC-21-200. An earlier planned 220 seat -400 model has been shelved for the time being.
Of course, the political situation in the Ukraine weighs heavily on Russia’s international relations, and with a multitude of Western suppliers, political pressure within Russia is mounting to utilize Russian suppliers. The decline in the ruble boost this requirement. Technodynamics and KRET are apparently interested in joining the program, but will need to meet the standards for Western certification to participate. While these companies have strong technology and extensive military experience, their commercial expertise and familiarity with Western certification processes may hold them back.
Nonetheless, the performance of the MC-21 appears to be outstanding. Fuel economy with the PW1400G could be better than the A320neo and 737MAX family, and pricing of the aircraft should be favorable (here the weak ruble helps). The question now is whether Western airlines are willing to utilize an efficient new Russian-built airliner. If they pay attention to the bottom line, chances are good that they will.