Russia squares up to Boeing, Airbus with maiden jet flight

Mon May 29, 2017 7:22am EDT
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By Gleb Stolyarov and Jack Stubbs

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia carried out the maiden flight of its new MS-21 medium-range passenger plane on Sunday, its first post-Soviet foray into production of a mainline commercial aircraft which it hopes will rival those of its Western competitors.

In a surprise statement, manufacturer Irkut Corporation (IRKT.MM: Quote) and its state-controlled parent company United Aircraft Corporation (UAC) (UNAC.MM: Quote) said an MS-21-300 model had successfully completed a 30-minute flight at a height of 1,000 meters and traveling at 300 km an hour.

Squeezed by Western sanctions over its role in the Ukraine crisis, Russia is trying to rejuvenate domestic industrial production to make the country less dependant on foreign firms.

The test flight, which was not announced to media beforehand, comes just three weeks after China staged the maiden flight of its new C919 passenger jet, highlighting the growing competition to industry heavyweights Boeing (BA.N: Quote) and Airbus (AIR.PA: Quote).

Russian officials have said the MS-21 is superior to its Western-made counterparts in many respects and will be snapped up by both Russian and foreign carriers, but Western analysts say both Russia and China face a huge challenge to shatter the transatlantic airplane duopoly.

"The flight mission has been completed. The flight was fine, there were no observations which will prevent further testing," test pilot Oleg Kononenko was quoted as saying.

Western aviation sources however expressed surprise at the flight's brevity and relatively low altitude compared with recent 3-4 hour debuts of North American and European models.

"It suggests they either have severe limitations or may have had something happen and decided to come back," said a Western flight test engineer, speaking on condition of anonymity.   Continued...

A view shows an An MS-21 medium-range passenger plane, produced by Irkut Corporation, during a flight in Irkutsk, Russia, May 28, 2017. Courtesy of PR Department of Irkut Corporation/Handout via REUTERS