2020 was a difficult year for aircraft manufacturers. With hopes for 2021 to be better, let’s look at new commercial airplanes that are going to be introduced.
It is unlikely the Boeing 797, or New Midsize Airplane, is going to appear any time soon. Its place – as well as the place of ageing Boeing 757 – is going to be taken by Airbus’ response: the A321XLR. The stretched and overhauled version of A321neo is going to become the longest-flying single-aisle airliner ever. It was announced in 2019 and gathered over 240 orders by mid-2020.
It is very likely the construction of the prototype of the airplane was heavily impacted by COVID-19 lockdowns. Despite that, there is a high chance we will see it taking off on a maiden flight in the second half of 2021, in preparation for the certification and eventual deliveries that are scheduled for 2023.
Boeing 737 MAX 10
Boeing’s newest airplane spent almost two years on the ground, following two fatal crashes. Now, after it is ungrounded, the work on previously-undeveloped versions could resume. The 737 MAX 10, the largest version of the MAX, was quietly rolled out in late 2019. Its maiden flight will most likely happen in 2021, and there is a chance the plane may enter production soon.
In the late 2020, the Chinese competitor to Airbus A320 and Boeing 737 received type inspection authorization, and proceeded with the final stretch of testing. COMAC plans the aircraft to receive the type certification in 2021, and start mass-producing the airplane. The first deliveries to domestic carriers should happen the same year, giving the Chinese public a possibility to fly on a new domestically-produced airplane.
2021 is going to be a good year for narrow-body aircraft. In addition to the full return of Boeing 737 MAX, the development of Airbus A321XLR and the deliveries of COMAC C919, the Russian competitor of the above – the MC-21 – will see a lot of developments too. According to Russian authorities, current plans are for the aircraft to receive the type certification at the end of 2021, which will be preceded by a lot of testing with both western-made engines and the domestically-produced PD-14.
The wide-body market received a beating in 2020. The return to previous capacities of international travel will likely take years and the development of the largest kind of passenger airplanes is going to be impacted as well. First deliveries of the Boeing 777X were delayed to 2022 even before the crisis; there is no news – and likely won’t be for some time – about the Airbus A350neo; and the CRAIC CR929, while its developers managed to resolve their differences, will doubtfully appear before 2023.
Therefore, the Il-96-400M – a modernized version of soviet-era twin-aisle airliner – is likely to be the only new large airplane to take to the skies in 2021. The completion of its prototype and the maiden flight are scheduled for the end of the year. Will it happen? Hopefully.
(Image: Boom Technologies)
While strictly speaking not a part of new commercial airplanes, the XB-1 is Boom Supersonic technology demonstrator designed to pave a way for their upcoming Overture business jet. A small, fighter jet-like aircraft was presented at the end of 2020 and will start conducting test flights in 2021, breaking both the sound barrier and the new ground in supersonic commercial aviation.
Lockheed Martin X-59 QueSST
Intended to perform the same role as the XB-1, but quieter, the X-59 is a collaboration of Lockheed Martin and NASA to test various sonic boom reduction techniques. Those could be used on a new generation of supersonic airliners, giving them an ability to reach incredible speeds above populated areas and not cause any damage in the process. The first flight of the X-59 was scheduled for 2021, but even if that is going to get delayed, we will likely see a rollout of the completed prototype.