Red Wings may become MC-21 launch operator

Red Wings, which currently operates a fleet of Russian-built Sukhoi Superjet 100 and Tupolev Tu-204 airliners, has announced its intention to become the launch operator for the new-generation Irkut MC-21 aircraft.

“We want to become the first MC-21 operator. It would be interesting to implement such a project, it would be an honorary mission. But it is still too early to speak about any agreements, because the aircraft has not even entered flight tests yet,” Red Wings General Director Evgeny Klyucharev told Russian Aviation Insider.

According to Klyucharev, Red Wings’ bid to become the MC-21 launch operator is supported by the fact that Ilyushin Finance Co. (IFC), which has 50 MC-21s on order (22 of those are confirmed, with deliveries scheduled to begin in 2019) is considering buying a share in the airline.

The new aircraft may replace Red Wings’ 210-seat Tu-204-100s, which are becoming economically unfeasible due to their low fuel efficiency and expensive maintenance. Red Wings has 10 of the type, two of them currently not flying. Only four of the Tu-204 fleet, those built in 2008-09, will remain in operation by the end of the decade, whereas the airframes produced in the mid-90s will be gradually retired.

By contrast, the number of regional SSJ 100s in the Red Wings fleet is expected to grow. The airline will take delivery of its fifth 93-seat two-class aircraft by year-end, with five more all-economy 103-seaters slated for delivery next year via State Transport Leasing Co.

For purposes of improved operational flexibility, the airline also needs 150- to 170-seat aircraft. Since Russian airframers do not cater for this capacity range, Red Wings may consider Airbus A320s or Boeing 737s. However, given the current unstable currency exchange rate, nothing can be certain, Klyucharev notes. The airline is in talks with the administration of Ulyanovsk Region, home to Russia’s only port-type free economic zone. Should Red Wings choose Ulyanovsk as its new base, it may receive tax preferences and use them for leasing Western-built aircraft. At present, Red Wings operates regular flights from Ulyanovsk to Moscow and Simferopol (Crimea). The regional authorities have expressed hope that the carrier will link Ulyanovsk with at least one destination each in Europe and China.

Red Wings, the only airline on Russia’s top 20 of carriers operating exclusively domestically built aircraft, holds 19th position in terms of traffic. It expects to carry its millionth passenger this October, and to reach 2 mln passengers carried by the end of next year.

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