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New Russian and Chinese planes challenge market

May 9, 2017 Headline News No Comments Email Email

Two new mid-size passenger jetliners, one Russian and the other Chinese, will soon be competing on domestic and short-haul routes currently dominated by the world’s two great airline workhorses, the Boeing 737 and the Airbus A320.

China’s first large homemade passenger jet aircraft, the C919, took off on its maiden flight from Shanghai’s Pudong International airport on Friday last week and landed back there again 80 minutes later.

The Russian challenger, the Irkut MC-21, is preparing for its own maiden flight, having left the assembly line at the Irkutsk aviation plant, Russia’s Izvestia daily reports.

The MC-21’s test flight is scheduled this month, according to Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin.

China’s 158-seater C919 forms part of the country’s long-term goal to break Airbus and Boeing’s duopoly. It has been designed to compete against the likes of the Airbus A320neo, the Boeing 737 MAX, Canada’s Bombardier C Series and other next-generation single-aisle airliners – including, of course, Russia’s Irkut MC-21.

Presentation of Russia’s Irkut MC-21

COMAC and Irish low-cost carrier Ryanair signed an agreement in June 2011 to co-operate on the development of the C919. Design and assembly of the aircraft is done in Shanghai, using imported jet engines and avionics, though a domestically made engine is planned. The C919’s dimensions resemble the Airbus A320, possibly to allow for a common pallet to be used. The C919 is expected to be popular with Chinese airlines and the Chinese domestic market is colossal. It will sell for about USD 50 million a plane, cheap in airline terms.

Russia’s Irkut MC-21 is a twin-engine short- to mid-range jet airliner with a capacity of 150–212 passengers. The first operator of MC-21 aircraft will be Russia’s largest carrier, Aeroflot.

The plane is intended to compete with the Airbus A320, the Boeing 737 MAX – and naturally, with China’s new C919. The MC-21 will also replace the remaining Soviet-era Yakovlev Yak-42, Tupolev Tu-134, Tupolev Tu-154, and Tupolev Tu-204/214 airliners in the Russian fleet.

Aeroflot is expected to take delivery of 50 Irkut MC-21’s late next year or early 2019.

The MC-21’s manufacturer UAC plans to sell the new Russian jet initially in India, China, Southeast Asia and Latin America. UAC says its new plane is faster and cheaper than the B737 and A320.

It will take a while for the planes to prove themselves and it could be years before they are operating commercially. In Western markets, most airlines and their passengers are likely to prefer the A320 or B737 for decades to come, largely because those planes have demonstrated their safety and reliability over many years on vast numbers of flights in all climates and conditions.

Written by Peter Needham

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