On May 28, Russia carried out a test flight of the MC-21 — or MS-21 as it is referred to in the western media — a medium-range commercial passenger aircraft that’s Russia’s first since the collapse of the Soviet empire. The MC-21 is Russia’s attempt at regaining the ground the country lost to the West in aerospace engineering over the past three decades — it hopes the plane will take on aviation giants like the France-based Airbus and the American Boeing.
The test comes less than a month after the Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (Comac) successfully tested a similar class airliner, the C919. The new entrants will compete in the short- to medium-range, narrow-body, twin-engine, single aisle airline class. This class of commercial airline constitutes the single largest segment in the world’s aviation market and is currently dominated by the Boeing 737 and the Airbus A320.
The first deliveries for the MC-21, developed by Irkut Division of the Russian government-owned United Aircraft Corporation (UAC), are expected in late 2018, or early 2019
Capacity: In a double-class layout, the MC-21 will have a capacity of 163 seats (16 business and 147 economy), while in a single-class layout it will be able to seat 211 economy-class passengers
* With the widest fuselage in its class, Irkut claims the width will give passengers significantly more space
* Around 3 tonnes lighter than the Boeing 737, claim manufacturers. Russian designers have used carbon fibre composite materials for more than 30% of the aircraft, which, they claim, contributes to enhancing the MC-21’s flight-technical characteristics and makes it lighter
*12-15% lower operational costs than its western counterparts, claim manufacturers
Over the past three years, Russia has been pushed into a corner by economic sanctions imposed on it by the West due to its role in the Ukraine crisis. It has been desperately trying to regain economic stability in the light of these sanctions and President Vladimir Putin has stressed that he sees rejuvenation of domestic production as the main strategy to reduce the country’s dependence on foreign firms. The state-owned UAC has been tasked by Putin to restore the country’s aerospace industry to the “former glory days” of the Soviet era. The success of the aircraft will depend on the Russia’s ability to strike deals with friendly nations to buy into massive projects like the MC-21.
HOW IT STACKS UP
American aviation consulting firm AirInsight wrote that “if the MC-21 meets its specifications, then UAC has a fine product on its hands that may further disrupt the duopoly” of Airbus and Boeing. On paper, the MC-21 seems perfectly capable of taking on the latest models of the A320 and the 737.
Aircraft MC-21Designer Irkut CorporationManufacturer United Aircraft Corporation (Russia)Programme Cost $4.6 billionUnit Cost $91 millionTwo-class layout capacity 163 seats Dense layout capacity 211 seatsMaximum flight range 6,000 kmLength 42.2 mWing span 35.9 mHeight 11.5 m
Aircraft C919Designer Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (Comac)Manufacturer ComacProgramme Cost $9.5 billionUnit Cost $90 millionTwo-class layout capacity 158 seatsDense layout capacity 168 seatsMaximum flight range 4,000 kmLength 38.9 mWing span 35.8 mHeight 11.9 m
Aircraft A320neoDesigner AirbusManufacturer AirbusProgramme Cost $1.3 billion*Unit Cost $108.4 millionTwo-class layout capacity 165 seatsDense layout capacity 195 seatsMaximum flight range 6,500 kmLength 37.5 mWing span 35.8 mHeight 11.8 m
Aircraft 737-8 MAXDesigner BoeingManufacturer BoeingProgramme Cost $1.3 billion*Unit Cost $110 millionTwo-class layout capacity 162 seatsDense layout capacity 200 seatsMaximum flight range 6,510 kmLength 35.6 mWing span 35.9 mHeight 12.3 m * Improvement cost over previous models
Irkut says the company has 285 orders so far, with “firm orders (pre-paid contracts)” for 185 planes. Last week, UAC president Yuri Slyusar said India, Bangladesh and Hungary “have shown interest” in the aircraft since the completion of the tests.