As demonstrated at the MAKS 2013 air show this August, Russia’s new Irkut MC-21 mainline narrowbody passenger aircraft is enjoying strong demand from lessors and carriers, despite the fact that the airliner is still under development. A total of 82 such airliners were ordered during MAKS alone, for a combined value of nearly $6.7 billion. In particular, Russian lessor VEB-Leasing firmed up its 30-ship contract at the show; Ilyushin Finance Co. (IFC) did the same with its option for 22 aircraft. Irkutsk-based carrier IrAero signed up for 10 aircraft, while Sberbank Leasing committed to 20. Depending on configuration, the unit cost under these contracts varies between $72 million and $85 million.
Prior to this year’s MAKS, the MC-21 portfolio stood at 256 units, including 135 firm orders. Commercial operation of the type is expected to commence in 2017. It is obvious that such a hefty backlog must be met with appropriate production capacities, or deliveries will slip.
Another MAKS event, one that would at first appear to have no connection to the MC-21 program, was the delivery to Airbus of the 500th A320 nose landing gear bay shipset for A320 manufactured by Irkut Corporation. Airbus has been outsourcing to Irkut since 2004; the Russian company manufactures nose landing gear bays, flap tracks, and keel beams for the A320 family. Since 2009, these components have been delivered to Airbus via aerostructures specialist Aerolia, which builds A320 fuselage sections. Irkut currently supplies 12 shipsets per month, corroborating the statement by Christopher Buckley, Airbus Executive Vice-President Europe, Asia, and the Pacific, that every third airliner of the A320 family contains Russian-made components.
This cooperation raises a number of questions. The MC-21 is being targeted at the same narrowbody segment as Airbus’s A320 family and future A320NEO model. "We will be competing with Airbus, but this does not preclude our mutually beneficial industrial cooperation," says Irkut President Oleg Demchenko. "In the course of this program our corporation has demonstrated the international-level quality of its products."
Airbus stresses that Irkutsk is involved in mass production of A320 airliners, because 12 shipsets per month translates to 144 sets per year. "There is no other program to manufacture structural components within the Russian commercial aircraft industry that could boast equally high production rates and international-level quality standards," says Alexander Gaponyuk, Airbus’s manager for industrial cooperation with Eastern Europe and Russia. "Thanks to its cooperation with Airbus, Irkut has gained valuable experience and introduced advanced managerial methods applicable to large-scale production for commercial aviation components, which can be used in international and Russian programs alike."
Alexander Veprev, general manager of Irkutsk Aviation Plant and Irkut vice-president, says the corporation is now actively applying its Airbus componentry production experience in preparing for the MC-21 production launch. All the requisite technological processes have been developed, including the procurement cycle, forging and machining processes, structural assembly, quality control, and process management. The corporation is refurbishing its manufacturing tools: a flow assembly line has been purchased from Durr Systems.
In confirmation of Demchenko’s statement that competition with Airbus won’t hamper the on-going partnership, Raphael Duflos, head of procurement and quality supply chain at Aerolia, has reported that his company intends to develop cooperation with Irkut both in terms of ramping up the production output and expanding the range of products manufactured.
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