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Russia’s Boeing 737 MAX Alternative – The MC-21: What We Know

There has been significant progress made this month on the development of Russia’s MC-21. The aircraft is set to be the country’s answer to the Boeing 737 MAX and the Airbus A320neo. With testing going strong, manufacturers are one step closer to introducing the jet.

An MC-21 at the Teknofest Istanbul Aerospace and Technology Festival at Ataturk Airport In 2019. Photo: Getty Images

Behind the project

This aircraft is a short and medium-haul narrowbody model and it will come in two variants. The standard type is the MC-21-300, which has a range of up to 6,000 km (3,200 nmi) and can fit between 163 and 211 seats. Meanwhile, the shortened version is the MC-21-200, which has a range of up to 6,400 km (3,500 nmi) and can fit between 132 and 165 passengers.

Moscow-based Irkut Corporation is manufacturing the type. This company has 88 years of experience within Russia’s aviation industry, which means that the jet is in the right hands to become a major player in the market.

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Serial production for the MC-21 was initially planned to commence by 2018, and deliveries to customers were supposed to start by this year. However, United States sanctions against Russia’s United Aircraft Corporation (UAC) affected the timeline of the development process.

The UAC is the parent of Irkut, and it now plans to deliver the first six of the MC-21s in 2021 and another 12 in 2022. After that, it will bolster production to 25 units a year by 2023. Additionally, by 2025, the group targets an output rate of 72 units per year.

Maiden flight of MC-21
The MC-21 during its maiden flight on May 28th, 2017. Photo: Denis Fedorko via Wikimedia Commons

Time for action

Following a period of downtime due to the global health crisis, flight tests for the airliner have now been ramped up. According to Defense World, the UAC is deploying two prototype aircraft simultaneously to make up for the lost time.

Four experimental planes are part of the program, with two of these configured with passenger cabins. Variations are being checked with a two-class layout for 163 seats and an ultra-dense arrangement for 211 seats.

There is already interest

Most of the current orders for the MC-21 are from Russian companies. Moreover, the vast majority of the deliveries will be for the larger edition. Aeroflot holds the most orders for the MC-21-300. In 2010, the state-owned carrier planned to take on 50 units.

There are two foreign carriers that have have explicit interest for the type. Azerbaijan Airlines is taking on 10 on lease, while Cairo Aviation is planning to hold six, with an option for four more.

Aeroflot plane at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport
Russia’s flag carrier Aeroflot is set to be the plane’s largest operator. Photo: Getty Images

However, there is attention from several more international firms. Peruvian Airlines has signed a letter of intent for ten of the jets, and Indonesia’s Merpati Nusantara Airlines also has signed a letter for at least the same amount. Furthermore, Kazakhstan’s Bek Air intends to order five units of the model.

Altogether, according to Research and Markets, the aircraft is billed to have superior seat-mile economics to the Boeing 737 MAX 8 and Airbus A320neo. Even though it does not match the range of its these competitions, it offers a full North American transcontinental range and will be suitable for short and medium-distance services.

What are your thoughts on the MC-21 aircraft? Do you see it competing actively in the market over the next decade? Let us know what you think in the comment section.


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