The Aeroflot Group has ordered 339 Russian jets, including the Tupelov Tu-214, the Sukhoi Superjet New, and the Irkut MC-21 from the Russian state-owned United Aircraft Company.
The $16 billion worth of homegrown planes represents Russia's desire to end its dependency on Western-built aircraft, but doubts remain it is up to the task.
The MC-21 will be Aeroflot's new "flagship" jet. The company says it can seat up to 211 passengers and fly over 3,700 miles.
Russia is desperate to end its reliance on Western-built technology.
In September, Aeroflot Group, which is the parent company of Russian national airline Aeroflot, announced it had signed an agreement to buy 339 Russian-built planes from state-owned United Aircraft Corporation.
The $16 billion order includes 40 Tupolev Tu-214s...
…89 Sukhoi Superjet New (SSJ-New)…
…and 210 Irkut MC-21s.
According to Aeroflot, the first two SSJ-New jets will be received in 2023, while the Tupolev Tu-214 and MC-21 will begin deliveries in 2024.
"The signing of this agreement clearly demonstrates to the whole world that Russia remains a great aviation power with huge potential and rich experience in the field of aircraft manufacturing, capable of producing reliable and modern aircraft," Aeroflot CEO Sergey Aleksandrovsky claimed.
All aircraft will be delivered with “Russian-made on-board systems and components,” according to Aleksandrovsky.
With the smallest number on order, the Tu-214 will be a “reliable support” aircraft, per Aeroflot. Meanwhile, the SSJ-New and the MC-21 comprise most of the order.
The announcement comes as Aeroflot can no longer rely on the Airbus and Boeing planes that currently make up the vast majority of its fleet due to the invasion of Ukraine.
Russia is even struggling to get spare parts from the manufacturing giants and has resorted to "cannibalizing" grounded jets for supplies. So, now the airline must make the move it has avoided making for years.
Currently, Aeroflot's fleet consists of 178 Boeing and Airbus jets and just four Sukhoi Superjet 100s (SSJ-100).
"Historical changes are coming to civil aviation," Sergey Chemezov, director general of Rostec State Corporation, said. "Boeing and Airbus aircraft, which are unlikely to ever be delivered to Russia again, will be replaced by Russian-made passenger aircraft."
The biggest push for Russian planes is to re-engineer them with local parts, like the SSJ-100 being reimagined as the SSJ-New that state officials say will be equipped with a Russian engine instead of the Franco-Russian one on its predecessor.
The MC-21, which hopes to compete with airliners like the 737 MAX and the A320neo, is also stripping its Western parts in favor of homegrown technology, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov told reporters in April.
Borisov said the MC-21 is dropping the American-made Pratt & Whitney PW1000G engine for the Russian-built Aviadvigatel PD-14 engine made by the state-owned United Engine Corporation (UEC).
Source: Aviation International News
"Earlier, the industry promised the aircraft with two engine options," Borisov said in April. "Now, we are launching the type into serial production with the PD-14 only."
Source: Aviation International News
The MC-21 will undergo new testing with the PD-14 engine for certification, which Rostec says is "proceeding according to plan."
Also developed is a new carbon fiber wing, dubbed "black wing" because of the color. The MC-21 took its first flight with the new Russian-made wing in December 2021.
Source: Rostec State Corporation
Composite materials on wings are uncommon on narrowbody jets, but Rostec claims the MC-21 is the "first domestic, as well as the first in the world in its class, aircraft with a composite wing."
Source: Rostec State Corporation
Avionics and other systems on the MC-21 will also be replaced with homegrown equipment to make it "fully Russified," Deputy Prime Minister Denis Manturov claimed at the Eastern Economic Forum in early September.
While Aeroflot and UAC hope for a 2024 delivery of the MC-21, which has been in production since 2006, the company had already pushed expected deliveries to 2025.
But, that timeline could be pushed even further as the company revamps the plane, drops an engine source, and replaces Western components — no simple task.
"It needs to be reinvented and that's going to take a bunch of years," aviation analyst at AeroDynamic, Richard Aboulafia, told Fortune in March. "It'll go from an interesting plane to a completely hopeless one."
Henry Harteveldt, travel analyst and president of Atmosphere Research Group, told Insider that "it's unlikely the standard will be as good as a Western-built aircraft, unfortunately."
"Russian and Soviet-built planes are rarely bought by Western airlines because they simply don't perform as well as their operating economics aren't as good," he explained.
Despite the skepticism from some experts and nations, Harteveldt said if Russia sees the plane as essential for its airlines and aviation industry, as well as for gaining some prestige, then "they will take the steps necessary to ensure the MC-21 gets built."
Though, he said it is possible that the jet could be an exception "that changes the track record" of Russian-built planes.
Moreover, if Western nations can work out their political differences, then the MC-21 could use the Pratt & Whitney engine, and "its fortunes could improve, but it will be difficult."
When and if the MC-21 eventually enters service, Aeroflot said it would be the "flagship" of the company's fleet. Here's a closer look at the Russian-built jet.
The MC-21 is a medium-haul plane that first took flight in 2017 and is "focused on the most mass-market segment in passenger transportation."
With a wingspan of 118 feet, the plane has a range of 6,000 kilometers (3,728 miles), which still lags behind the 737 MAX family and A320neo.
The jet is built to carry between 163 and 211 passengers.
A 163-passenger layout would allow for two classes, including 16 in business and 147 in economy…
…while the maximum capacity configuration would be all-economy offering 28-29 inches of pitch.
According to Irkut, the plane has several advantages that make it favorable for legacy and low-cost airlines, like its 30% share of composite materials, which are exclusively Russian-built…
…its wings and engines that purportedly improve performance and decrease CO2 and noise emissions…
...its large galley areas...
...its advanced cockpit technologies...
…and its big cabin that Irkut claims to be the largest in its class, which boasts more passenger personal space and luggage storage, and huge windows.
So far, the plane is undergoing flight testing but had one incident in January 2021 when the jet slid off the runway when landing in snowy conditions.
With the ongoing delays in production and lack of history proving the plane is a reliable alternative to the best-selling Airbus and Boeing jets, Irkut may struggle to find interest in the MC-21.
So far, only Russian carriers have ordered the plane, with Azerbaijan Airlines being the sole foreign customer.
With a total of 175 firm orders, the MC-21 is well behind the new Chinese-built narrowbody airline, the Cormac C919, which has amassed over 800 orders.
Despite the challenges, Chemezov claims to be confident in the MC-21, saying, "it is the pride of our aircraft industry, it boasts innovative design solutions that, I am sure, will be appreciated by both pilots and passengers."
Read the original article on Business Insider