Paris Air Show

Paris 2011: Irkut Presses Ahead with MC-21 Narrowbody Challenger

 - June 19, 2011, 9:15 PM

With a budget of close to $7 billion, the MC-21 narrowbody airliner is the most ambitious and expensive civilian aeronautical project ever attempted by a Russian company. Irkut, part of Russia’s United Aircraft Corp. (UAC) is leading the program. Its goal is for deliveries to start in 2016 and for annual production to reach a rate of 70 airframes.

There will be three members of the MC-21 family with a standard range of 1,900 nm, rising to 2,700 nm for an ER (extended-range) version. In all-economy-class configurations with a 32-inch seat pitch, the MC-21-200 offers 150 seats, while the MC-21-300 will have 181 seats and 212 in the MC-21-400. In addition to stretched fuselage, the MC-21-400 model features a wingspan that is almost four feet longer than that of the other types.

At last year’s Farnborough airshow, Malaysia’s Crecom Burj Resources became the MC-21’s launch customer. By February of this year, Irkut was claiming around 150 orders and commitments for an aircraft that competes with Airbus’s new A320neo, as well as the Bombardier CSeries and China’s Comac C919. Irkut claims that its clean-sheet design will overtake the evolutionary A320neo in terms of flight performance, while delivering operating cost reductions of between 12 and 15 percent compared with those of the existing A320 and Boeing 737 families, as well as Russia’s Tupolev Tu-204.

Irkut president Alexey Fedorov told AIN that Airbus will not be able to achieve this degree of increased efficiency simply by re-engining the A320. He indicated that the MC-21 will trump the Neo development with improved aerodynamics and greater weight savings through extensive use of composite materials in the airframe.

In November 2010 the MC-21 passed an airframe mockup inspection by Russian aviation authorities. In the same month, the Perm-based Aviadvigatel engine maker submitted the core for the first PD-14 turbofan for bench testing. The PD-14 is a Russian alternative to the Pratt &Whitney PW1400G geared turbofan, which Irkut also intends to offer as powerplant for the MC-21.

Irkut has followed Sukhoi’s example with the smaller Superjet SJ-100 development of using Boeing’s “seven-gate” path to aircraft development. Fedorov told AIN that it is in the process of passing through the fourth gate in which it freezes the aircraft concept design and selects vendors. “The negotiations are intense and will continue during the air show in Paris,” he said. “The signing of contracts will close the fourth gate. However, I cannot name the exact date of the completion of this process yet.” He said that the next phase, involving final resolution of the aircraft configuration, will be completed in the first half of 2012.

Beyond that, Irkut needs to prepare manufacturing documentation for the MC-21 prototypes. These are due to start flying in 2014 and in 2016 obtain certification from both the authorities of the Commonwealth of Independent States and the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). Fedorov said that work has advanced well and that the company faces “no insoluble problems” in achieving service entry before the end of 2016.

The commitments made to the MC-21 program to date also include a memorandum of understanding for 50 aircraft signed with the state-backed Russian Technologies group. This would see deliveries made between 2016 and 2022. According to Fedorov, Irkut is now working to finalize this contract.

At the same time, Irkut has confirmed that it is responding to a request for a proposal from European low-cost carrier Ryanair. The notoriously hard-bargaining operator also is looking at the Comac C-919, having so far failed to extract what it considers to be sufficiently low pricing from Airbus or Boeing.

In anticipation of MC-21 serial production, Irkut is modernizing its Irkutsk Aviation Plant, which will serve as the final assembly line. It has already invested some $340 million in the facility as part of a process that saw the company approved by Airbus to make parts for the A320 family.

Meanwhile, in the military domain, Irkut continues output of the Sukhoi Su-30MK fighters and it is working on a further upgrade for India’s air force that will incorporate BrahMos anti-ship missiles. Last month, Algeria’s air force completed evaluation of the Yak-130 trainer/light attack jets. Irkut has now started to train the north African country’s pilots and technical personnel ahead of planned first deliveries there later this year.