More Customers Surface for MC-21 as It Debuts at MAKS

 - August 28, 2019, 12:32 PM
(Left to right) Irkut general director Ravil Hakimov, general designer Oleg Domchenko, MC-21 chief designer Konstantin Popovich, MC-21 chief test pilot Roman Taskaev, and Irkut marketing chief Cyrill Budaev answer questions from reporters at MAKS 2019. (Photo: Gregory Polek)

As the MC-21 made its air show debut at Russia's recent MAKS 2019 trade show, United Aircraft Corporation introduced Russia’s Yakutia Airlines and BKR of Kazakhstan as previously unidentified customers for the new narrowbody. Now claiming orders for 175 copies of the jet, UAC has identified three airlines as operators, most notably launch customer Aeroflot, which has placed an order for 50. Yakutia has agreed to take five and BKR 10 of the airplanes.

The revelation of two more customers came as questions continued to plague UAC and MC-21 manufacturer Irkut over the threat of further U.S. sanctions, which have already forced the companies to source composite material for the airplane’s high-aspect-ratio wings from local suppliers. Meanwhile, the threat of more sanctions that could block further availability of the airplane’s Pratt & Whitney PW1400G engines has Irkut accelerating the development of a version powered with Russian-made Aviadvigatel PD-14s.

Briefing reporters at the show, Irkut executives nevertheless insisted on the commercial availability of both engine types. Irkut general director Ravil Hakimov acknowledged that the sanctions have affected the program, but that the company’s “technical solutions” have settled the issue. “I don’t see any need to comment further,” he concluded.

MC-21 chief designer Konstantin Popovich noted that PD-14 would receive its certification addendum to fly on the MC-21 next year. “Airlines would like to have different options; they want more selection,” he said.

While the MC-21’s designers promote the product as a more technically advanced piece of equipment than anything available now, the airplane will sell for 20 percent less than its direct competitors, said Hakimov. “The airlines are all saying that if [the MC-21] performs as you say there will be a third player in the market [apart from Boeing and Airbus],” he added.

Flying the third PW1400G-powered test aircraft at the show, Irkut has passed the needed testing milestones to allow lifting virtually all operational restrictions, according to Popovich. Planning on building 72 aircraft a year within six years of the start of production, the company already has begun making production parts because, he added, testing results have engendered enough confidence in the fidelity of the design to move forward with fabrication.

At MAKS, the MC-21 graced the skies above the Zhukovsky Aerodrome during the flying exhibits, as test pilots Oleg Kononenko and Vasily Sevastianov demonstrated its high maneuverability at speeds of up to 400 km/h and altitudes of up to 1,000 meters. During maneuvering, the pilots put the airplane in a steep climb and also banked to 90 degrees. The third airframe, first flown in March 2019, comes with a cabin interior, inspected on the show’s opening day by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, serving as host. All three of the test aircraft now flying rely on Pratt & Whitney PW1400G turbofans, while the fourth, now under assembly, will feature PD-14s. The Aviadvigatel design house promises a 3 to 5 percent advantage in operational cost per flight hour through lower maintenance compared to the Pratt geared turbofan.

The Pratt & Whitney PW1400G-powered MC-21 during demo flights at MAKS 2019. (Photo: Vladimir Karnozov)

So far, Irkut has ordered only five PD-14s. Of those, three (left, right, and a spare) arrived in Irkutsk in December last year and remain in storage, awaiting installation in the fourth flying airframe. At MAKS, the engine’s manufacturer, Perm Engine Company (local acronym PMZ), said it had begun final assembly of two more engines for a second PD-14-powered MC-21 prototype in view of planned delivery in the first quarter of 2020. (PMZ works closely with PD-14 developer Aviadvigatel.) Meanwhile, the plant has cut metal on a first deliverable engine (number 19 in the line) destined for airline service. Aviadvigatel general designer Alexander Inozemtsev explained that although no one has yet placed a firm order, officials have given assurances that Aeroflot would take 50 indigenously powered MC-21-300s and that various government customers would buy 300 more PD-14s for airplanes of their own.

The Aviadvigatel PD-14 next-gen turbofan on a flying laboratory Il-76LL at MAKS 2019. (Photo: Vladimir Karnozov)

For testing purposes, Aviadvigatel assembled two engines and PMZ eleven more. Of those, two were intended for flight testing on the Ilyushin Il-76 testbed, one at a time. To date, the two engines have logged 270 hours under the airplane’s wing, including 200 in the air. After MAKS, the testbed will start a third series of flight trials. Other engines performed 2,650 working hours of ground testing, including in open and closed rigs. The fleet leader—engine number 12—has performed 1,500 typical flight cycles, each lasting 10 hours, including two minutes at takeoff power mode.