Sanctions Delay Serial Production Of Russia’s MC-21 By Two Years

The PD-14-powered MC-21-310 at Dubai Airshow 2021.
Credit: Aviation Week Network

Serial production of Russia’s new Irkut MC-21 narrowbody airliner will begin one to two years later than planned, the country’s Deputy Prime Minister Yury Borisov confirmed March 31 after a meeting on the development of the Russian air transport and aircraft industry held by President Vladimir Putin. 

Borisov explained that time was needed to find domestic replacements for the MC-21’s numerous Western-made components after the banning of their export to Russia.

MC-21 deliveries to the launch customer, Aeroflot Group subsidiary Rossiya Airlines, were planned to start this autumn. The initial plan called for four airliners. That has since been cut to two airframes after Western sanctions were imposed on Russia in late February. These MC-21-300s will be powered by Pratt & Whitney PW1400G turbofan engines, which were apparently delivered prior to the imposition of the sanctions.

Borisov confirmed that the type’s serial production would now rely exclusively on the Russian-made PD-14 powerplant. The PD-14-powered version, MC-21-310, appeared at the Dubai Airshow in 2021 and is currently undergoing flight testing. The variant was slated to be certified in Russia by the end of 2022 and first deliveries were to follow in 2024.

However, a new version—beyond the MC-21-310—will likely proceed as it is not just domestic-built engines that manufacturer Irkut Corporation needs to find. Besides Pratt, other foreign suppliers to the program include Elbit Systems, Honeywell, Thales and United Technologies Aerospace Systems. 

According to Borisov, import substitution activities will now be intensified. “Our aircraft makers will switch to work in three shifts along the entire supply chain,” he said. 

Russia’s United Aircraft Corporation (UAC) reported earlier that the MC-21-310 version would feature Russian suppliers for its fly-by-wire flight control system, aircraft equipment control system, air data measuring system, landing gear and air conditioning.

Irkut has many other issues to resolve before the aircraft can go into serial production. First, it continues to conduct both flight and ground-based static tests for the aircraft’s new composite wing. It was made from Russian-made materials and will be used on all serial airframes. Irkut’s parent United Aircraft Corporation reported March 29 that the MC-21 wingbox had successfully passed the static strength test.

Despite the fact that the aircraft received Russian type certificate in December 2021, additional flight trials are needed to expand the MC-21’s operational envelope. MC-21 completed extreme low temperature trials in Yakutia in February. At the time Irkut CEO Andrey Boginsky laid out a vast test program, both in Russia and abroad, for 2022 that included high altitude, side wind and high temperature trials.

The SSJ-NEW program, which calls for the replacement of foreign-made components of the Sukhoi Superjet 100 regional jet, also faces delays. The new modification with Russo-French SaM146 engines was initially expected to be certified in 2023. That powerplant is to be replaced by the Russian-made PD-8, but it is not clear yet when that engine will be ready. Its core started bench tests in 2021 which are set to continue until March 2023. The roll out of the first PD-8 demonstrator, which was planned in March, is apparently delayed.

While work is carried out on the import-substituted MC-21 and SSJ-NEW programs, Borisov says the government plans to fill the gap by increasing production of the Soviet-era Tupolev Tu-214 narrowbody airliner and, if necessary, the Ilyushin Il-96 widebody. Such a plan faces challenges, not least the requirement to dramatically ramp up production—UAC has been assembling just one or two of each aircraft annually for government customers over the last decade. Borisov confirmed that the government had approved investments to increase production rates across the entire manufacturing process.

Ilyushin, Irkut, Sukhoi and Tupolev are all subsidiaries of the majority Russian government-owned UAC.