New Russian passenger plane performs successful maiden flight

Production is expected to start within the next two years

New Russian passenger plane performs successful maiden flight Photo: Denis Fedorko

A test flight of Russian MS-21 came as a surprise for most of the media. As well as the Chinese C919 passenger jet, which accomplished its maiden flight last week, the new Russian aircraft is intended to compete with Boeing and Airbus. Meanwhile, Western industry experts warn that the competition may become a hard challenge.

On Sunday, Russia carried out the maiden flight of its new MS-21 medium-range passenger plane, reports Reuters. ''The flight mission has been completed. The flight was fine, there were no observations that will prevent further testing,'' commented test pilot Oleg Kononenko. The event wasn't announced to the media beforehand. The twin-engine plane produced by Irkut Corporation, which is a member of United Aircraft Corporation (UAC), is treated as ''first post-Soviet foray into production of a mainline commercial aircraft''.

The 30-minute flight was performed at a height of 1,000 metres and at a speed of 300 kilometres per hour. According to Reuters, Western aviation sources ''expressed surprise at the flight's brevity and relatively low altitude compared with recent 3-4 hour debuts of North American and European models''. An anonymous industry source assumed that it might point to some severe limitations or be a sign of problems during the flight. However, a spokesman for UAC said that the flight had been long enough to test everything the company needed.

After the flight, Vladimir Putin congratulated Director General of Irkut Oleg Demchenko and his employees on their success. Earlier, Russian officials stated that MS-21 surpasses its Western-made counterparts in many aspects, for example, it requires lower operational costs than the existing analogues by Boeing and Airbus. Thus, they expect the new aircraft to be popular within both Russian and foreign carriers. UAC President Yury Slyusar estimated global demand for the new model at around 15,000 planes over the next 20 years.

MS-21 on assembly line at Irkutsk Aviation Plant, January 2016. Photo: Vadim Grishankin

The manufacturer intends to start production of MS-21 within the next two years. The plane is supposed to have two variants: MS-21-300 with 160-211 seats and MS-21-200 with 130-165 seats. According to some Russian state media, numerous contracts with domestic and foreign carriers have already been signed. Irkut announced ''firm orders'' for 175 planes. State-run Rostec will purchase 85 aircraft with at least 50 of them to be leased to Aeroflot.

Meanwhile, Western analysts consider that competing with the transatlantic aeroplane duopoly may be a difficult task due to Boeing and Airbus' bigger sales books and more advanced technical know-hows. Both companies recently upgraded their medium-range narrow-body models to reduce operational costs. However, the new aircraft still can succeed in Russia and some Eastern European and Asian countries, believe industry experts.

By Anna Litvina