Russia's United Aircraft has signed an order for up to 50 of its MS-21 twinjets and says it hopes to reveal the launch customer at the Farnborough Air Show.
Confirming that a deal has been signed, United chairman Alexey Fyodorov said: "I hope during this air show to announce our first contract with our launch customer."
He adds that he cannot reveal the name of the customer, but hopes to announce it in a few days. The order will be for about 50 aircraft.
During the ILA show in Berlin in June, United Aircraft indicated it had reached a tentative agreement with Crecom Burj, a Malaysia-based investment company specialising in transport and financial services, and hoped to firm the order later this year.
Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin recently urged Aeroflot to acquire the home-grown MS-21 as it contemplated a fleet-renewal for its newly-consolidating operation.
Fyodorov says: "I hope Aeroflot also will be our customer because we designed a very good aircraft." He believes any interest from Aeroflot will not be simply based on political pressure but rather be driven by commercial interest.
Progress continues on the development of the MS-21 after it passed the milestone of the pre-design stage last year. Systems integrator Irkut's president, Oleg Demchenko, describes the demonstration of the mock-up at Farnborough as a significant moment.
"We are starting the design phase. By 2012 we should start to produce a prototype and first flight will be around the end of 2014," says Fyodorov. "We have a plan to be in service in 2016."
The MS-21 family will comprise three models designed to accommodate 150, 181 and 212 passengers respectively. Irkut expects the first aircraft to be operational in 2016.