Upstarts from China and Russia are aiming to take on the U.S. and European aircraft making giants in the narrowbody plane segment, the most popular type of aircraft for carriers even as Boeing’s 737 Max made its international debut this week at the Farnborough airshow while Airbus was talking up the capabilities of its single-aisle rival the A320neo.
The MC-21 single-aisle jet was launched last month in a ceremony attended by Russias’ Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and manufactured by Irkut, a subsidiary of the Russian state-controlled United Aircraft Corporation (UAC).
Hoping to drum up international business for its jet, the company – which currently has 175 firm orders but mainly in Russia attended Farnborough, Europe’s biggest airshow.
Giving customers a comfort level similar to wide-bodied aircraft like the Boeing 787, the biggest selling point of the jets according to Irkut were the design of the plane and fuel efficiency.
The MC-21’s key features such as low cabin pressure and larger width were highlighted by Irkut’s marketing chief.
“The 737 has a fuselage width of 3.75 meters. We have more than 4. And this additional space gives you additional personal space. You could increase the cushion width, you could increase the width of the aisle which could speed up the turnaround time because people can pass each other on the plane,” Kirill Budaev, vice president of sales and marketing at Irkut, told CNBC during an interview.
Irkut hopes to be able to deliver the planes at the end of 2018 or beginning of 2019 even as it still needs to take its jet on a test-flight to get approved.
A major role in the global aerospace industry is also being played by China. C919 jet in 2015, another single-aisle aircraft to challenge Boeing, Airbus and Irkut, was rolled out by the state-owned Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (Comac).
However there has been several delays to the project. The first flight of the jet would likely be conducted in 2017 even though Comac had originally said its first flight would be conducted in 2014. There have been 517 firm orders so far for it’s another aircraft, the C919, aimed at appealing to airlines due to its fuel efficiency and greater customer experience within the cabin.
Being untried is the major issue that these upstarts will face a number of challenges dislodging Airbus and Boeing.
“They are coming up against established manufacturers with worldwide networks in terms of spares and support. If there is not easy access to spares and support where you are operating that would make airlines more reluctant to buy,” John Strickland, director of JLS Consulting, told CNBC.
Comac has a big domestic market which it could exploit, the analyst added.
Another issue that Irkut’s sales boss acknowledges is the fact that airlines will need to find a way to trust Russian and Chinese manufacturers.
“We accept we have a negative image to the past and we need to do something. Because of that, we have attracted international suppliers to this program, very well-known and the same as Boeing and Airbus have attracted. MC-21 is not a Russian plane, it’s an international plane with Russian brains,” he added, explaining that the company’s international suppliers such as Pratt & Whitney, Zodiac and Honeywell, will help the aircraft get global appeal,” Budaev said.