First PD-14-powered MC-21 Takes Shape

 - December 10, 2019, 10:09 AM
The fuselage for the fifth MC-21 undergoes assembly in Irkutsk. (Photo: Vladimir Karnozov)

Russia's Irkut has completed the fuselage for a fifth example of the MC-21-300 narrowbody airliner—the first to be powered by the Aviadvigatel PD-14 turbofans—amid persisting calls for complete indigenization of the 164-seat twinjet. The move follows rollout late last month of the fourth prototype and the last powered by Pratt & Whitney PW1400G engines ahead of flight tests scheduled to begin by year-end.

Three deliverable PD-14s (two in a set and a third for reserve), accepted by Irkut more than a year ago from their manufacturer Perm Motor Plant, remain in storage awaiting installation, which Irkut plans for early next year. The manufacturer has rejected calls to place them on an already assembled airframe, preferring instead to press ahead with an earlier plan targeting the PW1400G-powered version’s type certification by the local authorities in 2020 and validation by EASA in 2021.

Meanwhile, Beijing has approached Moscow with a request for PD-14 engines, following unsatisfactory testing of an indigenous turbofan intended for the C919 jetliner. Demonstrated publicly for the first time in 2011, the AECC CJ-1000A embodies China’s attempt to produce a local alternative to imported CFM Leap-1C engines.

China’s primary interest in the PD-14 as the source of key technologies received became all the more acute amid mounting pressure from the Trump Administration, which has threatened to reduce high-tech U.S. imports to the People’s Republic as part of the escalating trade war between the two countries. Local media has expressed fear that the White House might ban the export of advanced U.S. turbofans into China to stall the C919 and ARJ21 programs. In the absence of suitable domestic alternatives to the Leap-1C and GE CF34A, authorities have urged airplane manufacturer Comac to consider the Russian PD-14 and Ukrainian D-436 as contingencies.

The Chinese appear ready to consider the PD-14 provided Aviadvigatel wins EASA validation for the engine design and Perm Motor Plant for production, as planned, next year. Earlier this year, Aviadvigatel CEO Alexander Inozemtsev confirmed Chinese interest in the PD-14 but said Russia needs to safeguard its technology secrets. “The Americans will stand firm in preventing any other manufacturing nation to enter the market they now control with aviation engines of its own,” he noted. “I do not think it will take them much time to find an excuse and a pretext for [the respective economic] sanctions.”