Russia’s challenge to the Airbus-Boeing duopoly has advanced a step with the first flight of the MC-21-300 on May 28.
The 163-seat narrowbody flew at low level for 30 minutes to assess handling, stability and the aircraft’s PW1400G geared turbofan engines.
A simulated landing approach was also performed, followed by a flight over the runway and climbing and turning tests.
''Characteristics and operational modes of the powerplant are confirmed – all aircraft systems operated without glitches,” reported co-pilot Roman Taskayev.
Despite a smooth maiden flight, however, marketing efforts for the MC-21 continue to be a challenge.
Six years after the aircraft program’s launch, the MC-21 family has 185 firm orders, almost entirely from Russian airlines and lessors, and has picked up just 10 in the past year.
In contrast, the A320neo had 3,200 orders by the time of its first flight.
Of course, comparing the two aircraft is pointless. The neo built on an established A320 brand and critical mass in global fleet whereas the MC-21 started from nothing.
And, despite its carbon-fibre wings and cutting-edge engines, the MC-21 must overcome historic concerns about the technical merits of Russian aircraft, as well as a geopolitical climate unfriendly Russian exports.
Nonetheless, the aircraft could pave the way for a future Russian success story, in a similar way that the C919 may do for Chinese aerospace.
The MC-21’s wide cabin should be popular with passengers, while its fuel efficiency is not far enough behind that of Airbus and Boeing models for airlines to dismiss it out of hand.
And while a production rate of seven per month is meagre compared with Airbus’ plan for 60 A320s, it will provide a gentle testing period to Russia’s integrated aerospace industry under United Aircraft Corporation (UAC).
“This is an important stage in the formation of the new UAC industrial model,” Yury Slyusar, president of United Aircraft Corporation.