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Irkut looks west for MC-21 engines, avionics and systems

 - June 15, 2009, 4:31 AM

Irkut Corporation is evaluating tenders from Western engine, avionics and systems suppliers for its proposed new MC-21 family of narrowbody airliners. The Russian airframer (Hall 4 Stand C114) wants the first of the new model to enter service in 2016, and it intends to offer variants with capacity of 150, 180 and 210 seats.

According to Irkut president Oleg Demchenko, the high level of international cooperation in the development of Sukhoi’s Superjet 100 program has paved the way for leading OEMs such as Pratt & Whitney, Rolls-Royce, Snecma, Honeywell, Rockwell Collins and Thales to become partners in the new program. Initially, the MC-21 is intended as a replacement for the ubiquitous but aging Tupolev Tu-154, with target markets focused on Russia, the Commonwealth of Independent States, India, China, Southeast Asia and Latin America.

Despite the fact that both Airbus and Boeing are hesitating over plans for their own next-generation narrowbody twinjets, Demchenko does not envision filling a vacuum left by his Western counterparts. “We are not planning to compete against Boeing and Airbus but we do believe our aircraft will find its niche on the passenger airliner market,” he told AIN.

Irkut claims that the MC-21 will offer a 25-percent improvement in fuel efficiency over existing airliners in the same class, contributing to cuts in operating costs of at least 12 percent. The goal is to cut aircraft weight by 10 to 15 percent, although the company has yet to confirm how much, if any, composite content there will be in the airframe.

Irkut has been put in charge of the MC-21 program by Russia’s United Aircraft Corporation group, where Demchenko also holds the position of vice president. The company claims that its Irkutsk Aviation Plant was the first in Russia to be approved to both Airbus and EN9100 production standards and its quality control system has been certificated by Bureau Veritas.

The Siberian factory is already supplying large A320 aerostructures to Airbus. Irkut is also a partner with Airbus through the Germany-based Airbus Freighter Conversion joint venture, which last year won a launch contract from Dutch leasing group AeroCap to convert A320 and A321 airliners into cargo aircraft. According to Demchenko, the Irkutsk plant already has about 40 percent of the technology it needs to start series production of the MC-21, a proportion that is due to rise steeply during 2011 and 2012 to 90 percent. Output of the new airliner is projected at a rate of five or six per month.

Irkut is now finalizing the MC-21’s preliminary design and intends to complete this process by year-end. This process is being supported by the design bureaus of fellow Russian companies Yakovlev, Sukhoi and Beriev. Irkut subsidiary Yakovlev OKB Design Bureau will act as systems integrator for the program and both Ilyushin and Tupolev are expected to take roles in it.

Demchenko insisted that Irkut can press ahead with the MC-21 development despite the financial pressures now being felt by the Russian aerospace industry as a result of the global economic crisis. The company has been pledged approximately $3 billion in state support by Russia’s Federal Target Program for the Development of Civil Aviation. It has not said whether it will be requiring Western suppliers to sign up as risk-sharing partners in the program.

“The crisis is no threat to us,” said Demchenko. “Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin has named the MC-21 the crucial project for the United Aircraft Corporation, pointing out that aviation programs will not be curtailed. Today, the funds are provided fully as planned. We, too, are not going to reduce our investments in the program.” Irkut has reported an order book valued at $4 billion.

He said that the company is committed to a long-term program of modernization of the factory in order to improve efficiency, reduce production costs and allow it to have a more diversified product portfolio.

Irkut also is a leading player in the Sukhoi Su-30MKI fighter program, which has been developed for India’s military (which is due to have 230 of the jets by 2014).
Meanwhile, the air forces of both Russia and Algeria are reaching the end of acceptance tests for the new Yakovlev Yak-130 jet trainer, which will be the Irkutsk factory’s first experience in full digital production. In addition to its training role, the aircraft can also be used to attack air or ground targets.

Finally, Irkut intends to complete Western certification of the Beriev Be-200 amphibious aircraft before the end of this year. To free up production capacity at Irkutsk, the group is transferring Be-200 airframe manufacturing to the Beriev Aviation Scientific-Technical Complex in Taganrog but it will retain wing production at Irkutsk.