Russia completed the maiden flight of its new MS-21 medium-range passenger plane on Sunday, its first foray into mainline commercial aircraft since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Russia, squeezed by Western sanctions over its role in the Ukraine crisis, is trying to rejuvenate domestic industrial production to make the country less dependant on foreign firms.
It has previously 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.
In a surprise statement, manufacturer Irkut Corporation and its state-controlled parent company United Aircraft Corporation (UAC) said an MS-21-300 model had successfully completed a 30-minute flight at a height of 1,000 metres and travelling at 300 km an hour.
“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.
Russia has fought hard to shake its Soviet reputation for old and creaking aircraft flown by inexperienced crews. Flag carrier Aeroflot last year earned its fourth star from independent ratings website Skytrax, ranking it alongside major European and Middle Eastern competitors and ahead of big U.S. carriers such as Delta and United.
President Vladimir Putin called Irkut General Director Oleg Demchenko to congratulate him and his employees with what the Kremlin called “a significant event”.
The twin-engine plane will be built in two variants: the Ms-21-300 which will have 160-211 seats, and the MS-21-200 which will have 130-165 seats. Production is expected to start in the next two years and state media have said numerous contracts with domestic and foreign carriers have already been agreed.
Irkut said it so far had “firm orders” for 175 planes, all of which had been prepaid. State defence conglomerate Rostec, which is headed by close Putin ally Sergei Chemezov, said it had agreed to purchase 85 aircraft and 50 of them would be leased to Aeroflot.
UAC President Yury Slyusar said he estimated global demand for the new MS-21 models at around 15,000 aircraft over the next 20 years. “I’m sure the airlines will appreciate our new aircraft,” he said.