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Middle-market demand factors into MC-21 follow-on decision
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19 JULY, 2017 A new 20-year forecast by United Aircraft Corp showing strong demand in the “middle of the market” will be factored into the Russian manufacturer’s decision-making for the follow-on project to the Irkut MC-21-300, a marketing executive tells FlightGlobal.

UAC continues to evaluate whether to launch the 150-seat-class MC-21-200 or 220-seat-class MC-21-400 to succeed the 180-seat MC-21-300, which completed first flight in May and is on track for entry into service in 2019.

The MC-21-200 market segment continues to attract “some optimism” in UAC’s planning process, particularly in UAC’s core markets in Russia and the former Soviet bloc, says Tamara Kakushadze, vice-president of marketing for UAC.

But expected demand in the MC-21-400 segment also attracts interest, she adds.

Boeing has defined the “middle of the market” as a gap between the 737 Max 10 and the 787-8 for airlines that want an aircraft with 200-270 seats and range between 4,000-5,000nm. Airbus argues the segment is already served by the capabilities of the long-range A321neo and the A330neo.

But UAC sides with Boeing’s position, agreeing that airlines need an aircraft that bridges the capabilities of today’s narrowbody and widebody options.

“If some industrial company provided an effective solution, this market could be opened,” Kakushadze tells FlightGlobal.

UAC’s 20-year market forecast released on 19 July anticipates airlines will need about 5,660 aircraft through 2036 in a segment defined as ranging between 200-seat narrowbodies and 225-seat widebodies.

While Boeing proposes the New Midsize Aircraft (NMA) family concept to fill the gap, UAC prefers the MC-21-400 concept, a planned derivative of the MC-21-300. As the widest and newest clean-sheet narrowbody to achieve first flight in 30 years, the MC-21 will compete for orders in a market currently divided by re-engined models from Airbus and Boeing.

But UAC’s next step after the MC-21-300 is still unclear. The MC-21-400 is most attractive in a high-density market such as China, but also works on routes connecting Russian immigrants in the Middle East to their homeland, Kakushadze says.

On the other hand, UAC’s market analysis shows that Russia’s share of overall air travel demand will decline by 0.3 percentage points over the next 20 years. That slower rate of growth will continue to make the smaller MC-21-200 as an attractive option to follow the 180-seat MC-21-300 into service, Kakushadze says.

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