The test aircraft are flying. The order book is growing. The Irkut MC-21-300 will compete with the Boeing 737 MAX and Airbus A320neo for airline customers in the next decade and beyond. And, for the first time ever, we now know what the cabin interior will look like. At the MAKS Moscow Air Show this week a fitted aircraft was on display.
At first blush there is little to make the plane a truly compelling option for passenger comfort. The images show an interior that is relatively “normal” with a two-class configuration. Dig a bit deeper, however, and one very interesting dimension comes into play: cabin width. The MC-21 features a 4.05 meter cabin width, besting the A320 family by a quarter meter. That makes the MC-21 the widest single-aisle aircraft on the market and presents greater comfort options for airlines and passengers.
The demonstration plane shows off a 163 seat 2-cabin layout with 18-18.5″ wide seats and a 20-22″ wide aisle in the economy class section. In the first class cabin the company shows off a pair of catering trolleys next to each other in the aisle, and still some room to squeeze past them. There’s simply more space for passengers.
That said, the company does still have a 211-seat, single cabin configuration at 28-29″ pitch on offer. Airlines get to choose just how much space passengers will have on board. Even in the high-density configuration the carrier will offer wider seats than the competition and a wider aisle. That eases the boarding process and helps improve turn times. As single-aisle planes grow longer and cram more passengers on board the ability to quickly turn the aircraft becomes more challenging and important for airlines.
The wider fuselage also enables larger overhead bins. The company is showing off a configuration with six carry-on bags stored sideways in the bin, wheels-in, and plenty of room to spare.
Beyond the passenger space considerations Irkut is advertising a number of passenger-focused amenities available on the MC-21. Looking for a customizable LED lighting system to prove the cabin feel? That’s on offer. So is an embedded inflight entertainment system (including USB Type A ports). Or standalone power ports. And even an inflight wifi connectivity solution, though no details on which vendors are supplying any of those amenities.
The aircraft also features larger windows and a cabin pressurized to 6,000 feet, besting the single-aisle competition.
Certification and Production
The company is making progress on its flight test program, with three aircraft active and a fourth close to joining. In addition to certification from Russian authorities the MC-21 aims for EASA’s approval to fly in Europe. Given the range and current airline orders that makes sense; any continental Europe market should be reachable from Moscow based on the spec’s.
Production for the MC-21 will start slowly, as with all new aircraft types. The company expects to ramp manufacturing rates up to six per month as the assembly line and supply chain stabilize. That is a far cry from the 50-60+ per month that Airbus and Boeing can produce today; both of those companies also plan to increase production in the next few years.
But demand for single-aisle aircraft is also growing and a number of markets are keen to see viable competition to the Airbus/Boeing duopoly. While recent deals derailed the competition that the CSeries and E2 E-Jets brought to the industry similar plays are unlikely for Irkut and China’s COMAC.
Delivery numbers that truly alter the landscape are still years away, but the work is happening. And the planes will be flying. Among other bits this week the company announced orders from three airlines during the show.
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