Russia has completed assembling the second MC-21 aircraft at the Irkutsk Aviation Plant in Irkutsk, Siberia. The airliner is expected to start flight test campaigns in May, 2018. It is the second large-scale Russian project after the Sukhoi Superjet 100 and is hoping to compete with Boeing and Airbus in the single-aisle market.

"On March 25, the aircraft has been sent to the flight test unit to carry out ground tests in April. The flight tests will begin in May," the spokesman of the Irkutsk Aviation Plant told Sputnik on March 26, 2018.

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitri Rogozin has also confirmed the news that the assembly of the second MC-21 has been wrapped up at the Plant.

According to previous statements made by Rogozin in January, 2018, the first MC-21-300 prototype had already carried out over 30 test flights and would be followed by a second test plane. He has also confirmed to Sputnik that the Irkut Corporation is on track to start mass production of the aircraft in 2019.

Also in January, 2018, the Russian Sukhoi Civil Aircraft President Alexander Rubtsov said that his company expects “that another aircraft will join flight tests in March, and one more in summer," Russian news agency TASS reported.

The airliner is being developed by the Russian Irkut Corporation together with the Yakovlev Design Bureau of the Russian aerospace and defense company United Aircraft Corporation (UAC).

Russian aircraft manufacturer Irkut Corporation is planning to produce 1000 MC-21 planes in the next 20 years – Vice-President of Irkut Corporation Kirill Budaev. 

Irkut expects certification of the aircraft by the Russian civil aviation authorities in 2019, and is reportedly hoping to receive European Aviation Safety Agency‘s (EASA) certification in 2020.

What is all the fuss about?

The MC-21 (short for Magistral Aircraft of the 21st Century), is a narrow-body, twin-engine, short-to-medium-haul jetliner. It has the capacity of 132-211 passengers across its MC-21-200 and MC-21-300 configurations, respectively, with the range of up to 3,240 nmi (6,000 km). At the moment, work is proceeding only on the MC-21-300 variant, which will be followed by a shortened MC-21-200.

The MC-21 will be powered by two next-generation PD-14 turbofan engines produced by the Russian manufacturer Aviadvigatel. The aircraft can also be fitted with the PW1400G power plant, produced by Pratt & Whitney.

The UAC states the first MC-21-300 was rolled out in June 2016, and made its maiden flight in Irkutsk in May 2017. The plane made its first long-haul flight from the Irkutsk Aviation Plant to the airfield of Gromov Flight Research Institute in Ramenskoye, Moscow Region, in October 2017, covering a distance of over 2,796 miles (4,500 km) in six hours.

According to Sputnik, over 200 MC-21s have been ordered by Russian airlines, including flag carrier Aeroflot, as well as IrAero and Red Wing. Aeroflot has already signed a $5billion contract to purchase 50 MC-21s.

Aeroflot, the Russian flag carrier, announced an order for 50 Russian-built medium-range MC-21, thus becoming the largest customer of the aircraft.

Aside of the home market, there are ambitious plans to sell the plane abroad, particularly to the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa). In Mexico, this aircraft could arrive through the Interjet airline, which has shown interest in the aircraft. 

Although no foreign contracts have so far been signed, the UAC says companies from Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Tanzania and Iran have demonstrated interest in the project. According to Sputnik, India, Hungary, and Bangladesh have shown interest in the plane.

The development work on the MC-21 began in the late 2000s to replace the remaining Soviet-era Tupolev, Yak and Antonov design. Together with the short-range Sukhoi Superjet 100 and an updated long-haul Ilyushin Il-96, the MC-21 is expected to become a major step forward for Russian civil aviation.

However, the developers of the jet are also hoping for it to become a decent competitor in the single-aisle market with Boeing 737 and Airbus A320 aircraft. According to TASS, the MC-21 “has been readily embraced by the aircraft market since it meets all the requirements and can compete against similar Boeing and Airbus aircraft, outdoing them in price, fuel efficiency and passenger comfort.”