The Sukhoi Superjet and Antonov An-158 will attract most attention out on the flightline at Farnborough, but in the halls visitors will get their first look at the next generation of Russian airliners as the MS-21 mock-up makes its debut.

"We're going to display the cockpit and half of the fuselage, plus all the domestic equipment for the galley and forward and aft lavatories," says Irkut president Oleg Demchenko.

The 150- to 210-seat aircraft has now had its design frozen. "Close to Farnborough we signed up with almost all the first-level suppliers, such as Pratt & Whitney, Rockwell Collins, Hamilton Sundstrand and Zodiac. Almost all of them have linked with Russian companies." Irkut had previously made it clear that foreign suppliers would have a better chance of winning contracts if they partnered with a Russian company.

Speaking in Moscow before the show, Demchenko said the aircraft had secured its first tentative order, a letter of intent for five examples from an unnamed Russian charter airline. He expects Irkut to have signed more LoIs by now and that by April 2011 there will be several firm orders.

Irkut MS-21
 © Irkut

Demchenko admits that for reasons outside its control Irkut faces an uphill struggle to sell the MS-21. "It's a long time since Russia had a presence in this market. It's very difficult to persuade airlines that Russian aircraft are reliable and profitable. Most airlines see just Airbus and Boeing. Airlines still know nothing about us. We have to persuade them to trust us."

Noting that 70% of Aeroflot's fleet is composed of Airbuses, he admits that this process of persuasion has also to be applied to Russian carriers. Providing this reassurance, he says, is the reason why Western suppliers have been brought on to the MS-21 project.

Having Pratt & Whitney provide its PW1000G for the aircraft is a major aspect of this process of reassurance, he says. As well as the comfort factor for Western airlines of having a familiar name powering the design, he believes the engine is the most modern and sophisticated in its class. And it has the huge advantage compared with other new-generation powerplants of already being in existence and tested.

"Understand that we are taking big risks in this aircraft. Firstly, it is a composite wing, which is a very serious issue," says Demchenko. Just how seriously can be seen from the fact that Irkut is creating a new company, Aerocomposite, for the project.

This will be the first time that composites have been used in a major way in a Russian airliner, accounting for around 40% of the structure. The wing will be produced through non-autoclave methods, "an absolutely new technology for which we have signed contracts with Western companies," says Demchenko

Traditional Russian design strengths in aerodynamics and structure will come together in the wing, which he believes is "the most advanced in the world".

The engine-wing combination will make it highly competitive, he says, but declines to give figures. First flight is due for late 2014. Russian certification is planned for 2015, with European approval and service entry the following year.

"The most important thing is to keep to schedule and get to market at the right time." A few years' delay and it will be too late he accepts. So far, things are on schedule.

He knows that Irkut can create a technically good aircraft. The most important thing is creating after-sales support, the traditional weakness of Russian aircraft. "This is a very big job for us and this is where we have started to focus our efforts," says Demchenko.

Since last year, several meetings have taken place with Lufthansa Technik to have the German maintenance giant provide after-sales support for the MS-21. So far, Lufthansa Technik has not shown much desire to co-operate, "but we would very much like to work with them".

However, once again he accepts that Irkut has to prove to the German company that the aircraft is one they can believe in and is worthwhile supporting. "I'm being open and honest about this," he says.

He continues to believe that the MS-21 can account for around 10% of the world market in its class. This would equate to 65-70% of MS-21 production going for export. "This is not an optimistic forecast, it's a practical one," he insists.

Source: Flight Daily News