Russia's Irkut MS-21 programme has won the confidence of two key domestic customers, as state firm Rostekhnologii and lessor Ilyushin Finance (IFC) sealed agreements covering up to 135 of the twinjet type.

Rostekhnologii agreed to acquire 35 of the -300 and 15 of the -200 variant, plus options on 35 more, for delivery between 2017 and 2022.

Aeroflot has been lined up as a customer. IFC placed orders for 28 with 22 options.

Irkut, which valued the contracts overall at $6 billion, remains optimistic that it will be able to complete the final design phase of the MS-21 narrowbody by the end of 2012.

The first flight of the aircraft remains on track for 2014, with certification scheduled to be completed in 2016 and deliveries to begin in 2017, said Irkut president Alexy Fedorov at the MAKS air show in Moscow.

"The first aircraft will be the -200 and -300 variants, as that is where there is the most demand. We will decide on the timeline for the -400 later," he added.

Irkut will start working on a concept for the -400 after it ­completes the final design work for the smaller variants of the ­narrowbody. It displayed a model of the -400 at MAKS, with a larger wing, winglets and longer airframe than the other family ­members. It is likely to carry 212-230 passengers, and have a longer range, putting in the category of the Airbus A321 and Boeing 737-900ER.

"The -400 will be very different, but we are still studying the concept and the market for the aircraft," said Fedorov. "Our focus is now on the -200 and -300, as we have firm orders for those."

He admits the market would be tough for the MS-21, but believes there is sufficient demand.

"This narrowbody market is the toughest, but it is also the ­biggest. There is room for another player that offers a competitive price and option. The MS-21 can hold its own as it will come out only one to two years after the A320neo," he said.

The company envisages a market for 1,200 MS-21s.

Rostekhnologii has also signed a strategic partnership agreement with United Aircraft, covering development of domestic airframes. The purpose of the pact is to "create competitive Russian aircraft", said Rostekhnologii, and secure 10% of the global sales in the civil market by 2025, with domestic suppliers providing at least 70% of the systems.Rostekhnologii and United Aircraft have identified four priority areas. These comprise new-technology aircraft - such as the Irkut MS-21 and Sukhoi Superjet - plus modernised types, like the Tupolev Tu-204SM, aircraft for the government and a segment including the updated Antonov An-124 and An-70.

Their partnership comes in the wake of heavy criticism from the Russian government that the country's commercial air transport industry is weak, and unable to compete on the same scale as foreign manufacturers.

The two sides will create "innovative products", featuring advanced engines, modular avionics and composite materials.

The MS-21 project is entering its final design phase, with completion targeted for the end of 2012

Source: Flight International