Russia Rolls Out Mid-Range Jet to Challenge Boeing, Airbus

  • Irkut Corp. seeks 10% of airliner market with 211-seat MC-21
  • Company targets plane’s first flight by end of this year

Irkut Corp., the maker of Su-30 fighter jets, is rolling out Russia’s first new full-sized airliner since the Soviet Union collapsed 25 years ago, in the country’s most direct challenge to commercial-plane industry leaders Boeing Co. and Airbus Group SE.

The single-aisle MC-21, designed for 163 to 211 seats, was introduced to the public Wednesday at the plant where it’s produced in the Siberian city of Irkutsk. Russia’s government has spent about $3.5 billion developing the model, which Irkut is targeting for its first flight by the end of this year. Deliveries are slated to begin in late 2018 at a list price of about $90 million per plane.

“I am sure that the MC-21 airliner will take up its rightful place in the world market,” Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said in Irkutsk at the unveiling. “Russia must remain in the top league of aviation producers.”

Russian Aviation

Irkut was combined with other aerospace manufacturers into state-controlled United Aircraft Corp. about a decade ago as Russia sought to revive its planemaking industry and develop a more global market presence. A sister division, Sukhoi, began deliveries in 2011 of the Superjet 100, a 93-seat regional airliner that competes with models from Montreal-based Bombardier Inc., including smaller versions of the new C Series, and Brazilian producer Embraer SA.

Powered by engines from United Technologies Corp.’s Pratt & Whitney unit that will give it a range of just under 4,000 miles (6,400 kilometers), the MC-21 will take on Boeing’s 737, the world’s best-selling airliner, and Airbus’s A320 series. The model, which will succeed Russia’s Tupolev Tu-154, will be wider than its rivals, while Irkut will also make a shorter, 132-to-165-seat version available. Aeroflot PJSC, the country’s biggest airline and a Boeing and Airbus customer, is scheduled to become the MC-21’s first user.

‘Constantly’ Negotiating

Irkut is targeting a 5 percent to 10 percent worldwide market share for the model by 2035, Oleg Demchenko, head of the division, said last week in an interview. The manufacturer is “constantly” in talks with potential customers, including leasing companies, and “I’m sure it will be in demand on the global market,” he said.

Still, United Aircraft’s efforts to build a presence outside former Soviet countries have yet to take off. All 175 orders for the MC-21 so far have come from customers based in the region, and the model will be starting service in economies that have been battered by low prices for oil and metals. Of the nine buyers of Sukhoi’s Superjet 100, two are from outside the former Soviet Union: Mexican carrier Interjet, which started flying the plane in 2013, and Irish airline CityJet, which began operating it this month.

Airbus is monitoring its new rival’s introduction, though to create a mature jet, a lot of time will be needed, Chief Executive Officer Fabrice Bregier said in an interview with Russian business newspaper Kommersant last month.

The MC-21’s prospects abroad may be helped in those countries where Irkut is already a military-plane supplier, said Oleg Panteleyev, head of research at consulting company Aviaport.ru.

In addition, “the manufacturer and the government have tried to learn from the mistakes made with the Superjet 100, so now a lot of attention is paid to after-sale services,” he said. “The producer is already negotiating with technical maintenance providers” as it prepares the plane to fly.

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