Irkut MC-21 Photo: Irkut

LONDON – Russian Minister of Industry and Commerce Denis Manturov confirmed that the MC-21 aircraft is set to receive the type certificate in mid-2021. This would pave the way for the aircraft to enter service at the end of next year.

The Irkut MC-21 is a narrow-body, short- and medium-range, twin-jet, low-wing monoplane airliner under development and production by Russian aircraft companies Irkut and Yakovlev of the United Aircraft Corporation.

The Irkut MC-21 aims to replace the old Tupolev Tu-154 and Tupolev Tu-204/214 models in Russian aircraft production and to position itself as a competitor against Airbus and Boeing in the world market of narrow-body aircraft.

Maiden flight of the MC-21. Photo: Wiki Commons

Development of the MC-21

In 2006, Russia’s United Airline Corporation (UAC) design goal was to seat 130–170 passengers over 5,000–6,350 km (2,700–3,430 nmi). The aim was to replace the aging Tu-154, 20–25% more efficiently than with the Airbus A320 or Boeing 737 Next Generation competitors with 15% lower weight, 20% lower operating costs, and 15% lower fuel consumption.

The MC-21 was due to enter service in 2012 for an initial target price of US$35m, US$20m below the similar Boeing 737-700.

The program was launched in 2007, planning a 2016 introduction. Those goals were reiterated in 2008, except for the general efficiency gain lowered to 10–15%. In 2009, the MC-21 was in the “pre-design” phase, with projected completion of the first prototype in 2013 and the first flight in 2014.

By June 2011, the “pre-design” phase was completed and the “working design” stage was underway with three-dimensional models and drawings for subcontractors and suppliers, to be completed by mid-2012. In February 2012, Russian deputy prime minister Dmitry Rogozin announced that the aircraft was slated to begin certification tests in 2015/2016 and to enter production in 2020.

Cockpit of the the MC-21. Photo: Alex Beltyukov

Development Delays

On 8 June 2016, the -300 was rolled-out in Irkutsk, East Siberia, six years after program launch and with 175 orders. It could be the first commercial aircraft with an out of autoclave composite manufacturing for its wings. At the time, the program faced domination of the single-aisle market by Airbus and Boeing.

However, Russian protectionism hampered access to critical western suppliers for the avionics, landing gear, hydraulics, power systems, and engines. As a result, its introduction was delayed, slated for the end of 2018. The type was intended to rival the Airbus A320neo or Boeing 737 MAX and in turn replace the outgoing Tu-134, Tu-154, Tu-204, and Yak-42.

In February 2017, it passed 90% of the static ultimate load test (150% of the highest load in operation) at the TsAGI but failed the 100% test, for which the wing box would need 25kg reinforcements. This is common for new airliners like the Airbus A380, Boeing 787, or Mitsubishi MRJ, aiming for the smallest possible margin to avoid excess weight.

Irkut MC-21 Cabin. Photo: Wiki Commons

The MC-21 Maiden Flight

The aircraft passed the limit load test (highest load during flight). This enabled flight testing which should start in April. However, cracks developed at the point of contact between the titanium beam and the composite wing skin in the wing box. When the issue was fixed, the reinforced wing box withstood a load exceeding specifications without damage in mid-November at TsAGI Moscow.

In May 2017, the MC-21 underwent systems ground testing including its auxiliary power unit and taxiing tests. After completing taxi and runway roll tests, its maiden flight was scheduled for late May 2017 with its Pratt & Whitney Geared Turbofan engines, certified in September 2016 in Russia. The Russian certification was now targeted for 2018 and the European Aviation Safety Agency certificate for 2019.

On 28 May 2017 MC-21 made its successful maiden flight in Irkutsk. Compared with recent 3-4 hour maiden flights of western types, this first flight was brief at 30-minute and low, reaching a 1,000 m altitude and 300 km/hour. The maiden flight was originally scheduled for December 2016 and then to April 2017 before finally taking place in May.

The MC-21. Photo: Irkut

PD-14 Engines for the MC-21

In January 2020, Irkut had received the first PD-14 engines for installation. The Russian engine was the 8–16 tf (18,000–35,000 lbf) Aviadvigatel PD-14. United Engine Corporation (UEC) planned to deliver five PD-14s for the MC-21 by the end of 2018, to start flight tests in 2019 for the MC-21 variant certification in 2021. 

By October 2018, the PD-14 had received its Rosaviatsia type certification. By October 2019, PD-14 flight-testing on the MC-21 was delayed until 2020.

Irkut corporation has said, “After a short interruption related to the implementation of recommendations to counteract COVID-19, regular flights of MC-21-300 aircraft were resumed as part of the certification test program.”

The MC-21. Photo: Irkut

Orders for 175 MC-21

By the end of the 2013 MAKS Air Show, there were already 175 firm orders for the type, including 50 for Rostec subsidiary Aviakapital, leased to Aeroflot. In addition, there were 35 more orders with PD-14 engines for governmental customers, 50 for Ilyushin Finance (10 leased to Red Wings Airlines and six to Transaero), 30 for VEB Leasing (10 leased to UTair Aviation and 6 to Transaero), and 10 for IrAero with an agreement for 20 others leased from Sberbank of Russia, for a potential total of 195 orders.

In June 2016, Azerbaijan Airlines tentatively signed to lease ten -300s from Ilyushin Finance. By July 2018, the MC-21 had received 175 firm orders and recorded nearly 150 intentions.

At the 2019 MAKS Air Show, Bek Air (Z9) signed a letter of intent for ten Irkut MC-21 aircraft, Yakutia Airlines (R3) likewise signed for five aircraft and an undisclosed customer for a further five aircraft. Deliveries of the new aircraft will begin in the second half of 2021.

The MC-21. Photo: Irkut

Statement from Russian Minister of Industry and Commerce

Denis Manturov, Minister of Industry and Commerce of Russia, said that access to Russia was actually closed for foreign specialists during the pandemic period. “Movement across the country of Russian participants in the cooperation has also been hampered.”

“Therefore, we now expect to obtain the Russian type approval certificate approximately in mid-2021. The European one – one year later. In such a case, we will be able to ship the first commercial airplane to an operator in late 2021.”

Featured image: Irkut MC-21 Unveiling. Photo: Wiki Commons.