Off the shelf

Russia’s MS-21 program awaits launch orders to begin prototype assembly

Russia’s new MS-21 short-to-medium range airliner remained on paper for quite a long time, but now customers seem to feel more confident about the program. In early June, Irkut Corporation, the MS-21 designer, signed a preliminary agreement with Malaysian Crecom Burj Bhd investment fund for 50 aircraft. The deal is estimated at $5 billion, with the first delivery to be made in 2016. Malaysian media have cited Crecom Burj representatives as saying that they plan to lease the MS-21s to airlines from Southeast Asia.
"It’s great that we have seen the first interest in our aircraft", says Alexey Fedorov, president of Irkut’s parent company United Aircraft Corporation (UAC). A firm contract will be inked in a few months. Fedorov promises that by the first quarter of 2011, UAC will have landed the 50-70 firm orders needed to launch production of the first prototypes.
According to Irkut, more clients are expected to be announced at Farnborough International 2010, where the designers will for the first time demonstrate full-size mock-ups of the MS-21 cockpit and passenger cabin. Talks are reportedly under way with both Russian and foreign customers.
Fedorov names the Russian Technologies state corporation as a possible Russian launch customer. This giant state-owned industrial holding controls several Russian air carriers, including the country’s fourth largest airline in terms of passenger kilometers, St Petersburg-based Rossiya. Earlier Russian Technologies wanted to merge its aviation assets into a single airline to rival Russia’s flag carrier Aeroflot, but eventually it agreed to hand these airlines over to Aeroflot. In exchange the corporation expects to get a stake in this largest domestic airline.
UAC has previously run in a Russian Technologies tender for 50 short-to-medium range airliners, bidding with a mix of Tupolev Tu-204SM and MS-21 aircraft. But in May 2010 the corporation preferred the Boeing 737NG as a solution for renewing the fleets of its subsidiary airlines. Nevertheless, Fedorov hopes that Russian Technologies will support the MS-21 program with orders as some of the corporation’s industrial subsidiaries participate in the program as systems suppliers. For example, Russian Technologies-controlled Avionika and Aviapribor Holding were selected to develop the MS-21 avionics suite in cooperation with Rockwell Collins. Russia’s United Engine Corporation, which Russian Technologies controls through the Oboronprom investment fund, is developing the PD-14 engine for the future airliner.
The MS-21 development effort started in the early 2000s. This new single-aisle aircraft, with a passenger capacity of between 150 and 200 and a range of 5,000 km, is targeted at the most popular segment of Russian air transport. It will replace ageing Soviet designs, mainly the Tupolev Tu-154.
In 2009 the program passed the Gate 3 milestone, which involved the approval of the aircraft’s preliminary design. Also by the end of last year, Irkut selected the major subsystems suppliers, including the alternative engine designer. Now customers can choose between a Russian and a foreign powerplant. The domestic option is the PD-14, while Pratt & Whitney will develop a special version of its PW1400G geared turbofan engine with a thrust of 14 tons.
The US company Hamilton Sundstrand and Zodiac Aerospace of France are some of the other major suppliers. The Americans will supply the APU, the wing de-icing system, and the integrated air-conditioning and fire protection system. Zodiac and its subsidiaries will develop the electric, fuel and oxygen systems and interior design. The MS-21’s hydraulic system will be designed by Eaton Corporation, but more than 50% of work on its components and assembly parts will be outsourced to Russian manufacturers. Russia’s Hydromash company will produce the landing gear.
The program is currently at the working design stage, with production of the first prototypes expected in 2011. The smallest, 150-seat MS-21-200 family member is to make its first flight in 2014, and should achieve Russian and EASA certification in 2015 and 2016, respectively.

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