Russia’s MC-21: A Boon For MRO Providers?

Last Friday’s (August 12) news that Russia’s Irkut MC-21 jet is about to undergo static testing on its fuselage pushed the aircraft another step closer to entering the competitive narrowbody jet market.

Pitched as a rival to the dominant A320 and the 737, Russia has high expectations for the aircraft, having invested billions of dollars into the programme and enlisted a host of western suppliers to provide everything from the avionics to the landing gear.

Expected to undertake its first flight at the end of 2016, with an entry-into-service scheduled for 2018, the MC-21 joins the likes of China’s Comac C919 and Canada’s Bombardier CSeries programme in having a crack at the Boeing-Airbus duopoly.

But looking past the aircraft’s market prospects, it’s also worth considering its impact on the commercial MRO segment.

So far, Irkut has a memorandum of understanding in place with Lufthansa Technik, a move it attributed to the German MRO’s wide network, while working with firms such as Belgium’s Technic One on setting up components pools for the jet.

While getting non-Russian airlines to buy the aircraft could prove an obstacle, with just 192 firm orders and 88 purchase options from 10 carriers, the aircraft’s technical competence has been widely acknowledged, with a reduced weight owing to composites and alloy materials combined with a wider cabin size than that of the 737 and A320.

If more aircraft are ordered over the next two to three years by non-Russian carriers, the MC-21 could yet present new opportunities for the world’s MROs to become authorised for the jet.

One has to look at other new aircraft programmes such as Japan’s Mitsubishi Regional Jet (MRJ) maintenance partnerships – buoyed by big US orders from the likes of SkyWest and Trans States – as an indicator of what programmes like the MC-21 could bring to the aftermarket.

The Russian government’s approach to working with MROs for its aircraft projects is also interesting.

It was speculated in Russian media last month that the government, often labelled as protectionist in its approach to business, would compensate the maintenance costs associated with creating a network of 24/7 service centres for both the MC-21 and the moderately successful Sukhoi Superjet on a quarterly basis.

This, according to reports, could be used for everything from facility purchasing or upgrades, equipment and tool buying, component procurement and staff training expenses.

Such incentives will surely prove very attractive to MROs, regardless of where they operate.

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