Since the first deliveries to St Petersburg-based launch customer Rossiya – Russian Airlines in 2009, the Antonov An-148/158 family of regional jets has remained a niche product. Now, however, a new marketing strategy has evolved that may help expand the aircraft’s international presence as lessors are beginning to promote it as a replacement for the BAe146 and Avro RJ models. Although unlikely to boost sales dramatically, this development could result in more Antonov jetliners operated around the world
At the recent MAKS 2013 air show in Zhukovsky outside Moscow, two airlines – Angara of Russia and Cuba’s Cubana de Aviacion – signed up for additional An-148/158 aircraft. The new contracts had been expected in both cases. Angara ordered two An-148s from Russian lessor Ilyushin Finance Co. (IFC), to be built at Voronezh-based VASO factory and delivered in 2014. The contract is understood to be worth over $60 million. Angara already operates three of the type, delivered by IFC in 2012 under an agreement signed in 2011 with the carrier’s Irkutsk-based parent company Eastland. The contract covered five firm orders and an option for five more An-148s.
Angara became the third Russian commercial carrier to operate An-148s after Rossiya, with six such airframes in its fleet, and Polet Airlines with two. Rossiya became the launch customer on the type in December 2009. The airline’s An-148 fleet accumulated 18,628 flying hours in 2012, or around 5% up on the 2011 figure (17,759 hours). The 2010 flying time was just 6,500 hours, but Rossiya back then had only three An-148s. The airline had originally complemented its six firm orders by an option for a further nine. However, the idea to further expand the An-148 fleet was dropped after Rossiya became a part of Aeroflot Group, losing VASO a potential nine-ship contract.
VASO reports that by mid-July 2013, the monthly flying time for Rossiya’s An-148 fleet averaged at 300 hours per airframe. Polet’s figure was 200 hours; one of Angara’s An-148s clocked 250 hours in June. To put this in context, individual Russian carriers accumulate up to 400 flying hours per aircraft per month on their Airbus A320 family medium-range jetliners. This makes 200-250 hours for the An-148 regional jet quite a good figure, and 300 hours per month is very impressive indeed.
Speaking of government operators, a single An-148 has been delivered to the Russian president’s administrative department, and two more aircraft to the Russian Emergencies Ministry. As announced at the VASO general meeting of shareholders in June, the company landed an order in May to build 15 An-148s for the Russian Defense Ministry. Deliveries are scheduled to begin by year-end and continue until 2017.
The first An-148 under this deal is expected to be handed over to the Russian Defense Ministry shortly. The Aircraft Interiors Association (AIA) announced a new order for a VIP configured An-148 at MAKS 2013. The formal customer is the airframe manufacturer VASO. Under the contract, deliveries of Russian-made furniture for the airliner’s cabin should have been completed by late September 2013. AIA is not disclosing the name of the end customer, but there are indications that the aircraft may be intended for the Defense Ministry.
A VASO conference last fall discussed the possibility of accommodating a consolidated government order for the type. Russia’s United Aircraft Corporation (of which VASO is a subsidiary) said at the time that up to 20 such aircraft might be ordered.
Cuba’s major carrier Cubana became another customer for the Antonov regional family at this year’s MAKS. South American Aircraft Leasing (SAAL), a subsidiary of International Aircraft Leasing Holding, used the air show to hand over to the Cuban carrier its third An-158 under a contract signed at the previous MAKS in 2011. Production of the batch at the Ukrainian OEM Antonov was organized by IFC; a group of Russian banks led by Roseximbank financed the deal. Also at this year’s MAKS, Cubana firmed up its option for three more An-158 aircraft, which was signed in spring 2013 following the first delivery.
The An-158 is a stretch of the An-148 formerly known as the An-148-200. The version was rolled out in April 2010; certification was completed in 2011. The An-158 unit cost is estimated at $28-30 million, depending on options. The total value of Cubana’s six-ship order may therefore reach $180 million.
Cubana de Aviacion chooses Russian- and Ukrainian-built airliners for their balance of price and quality. Line maintenance is performed in Cuba; further plans call for offering heavy maintenance forms in that country. Cubana technical personnel will travel to Russia next year to receive relevant training.
SAAL head Ralph Dieter Montag-Girmes says his company "hopes that Cubana’s passenger numbers will continue grow, and does not rule out that the carrier will place additional orders in the next two years". At Farnborough air show in 2012, SAAL signed an agreement to deliver 15 Antonov aircraft to Latin America, including three An-158 firm orders and an option for 12 An-148/158s.
IFC sees a potential market for the An-148/158 among the current operators of the BAe 146 regional jetliner and its Avro RJ modification, which were built in the UK between 1983 and 2002 and seat 70 to 112 passengers. These aircraft are currently flown commercially around the world, including in Australia, New Zealand, Belgium, Bulgaria, Germany, Great Britain, Ghana, and Botswana. They are also operated in transport roles by government agencies in a number of countries. Unlike the four-engined BAe 146 and Avro RJ, the An-148 has only two powerplants, which considerably reduces the associated maintenance costs.
"The An-148 family is definitely niche aircraft with an incredible unpaved runway capability," says IFC International Sales and Marketing Director Stewart Cordner. "I know that some BАе 146 and Avro RJ operators are seriously looking to upgrade their fleets with An-148s, and we are in talks with them. BAe146 and Avro RJ operators are forced to look for replacements because their airliners have been out of production for nearly 13 years, the size of the operational fleet continues to shrink, and maintenance costs keep rising. Therefore, we believe that [the An-148] will prove an ideal alternative for those carriers not wishing to operate in the low-fares segment, and also for operators serving the oil-and-gas sector or working under government contracts in the interests of security agencies."