Russia´s first new passenger plane since the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union, the Superjet-100, took off on its maiden test flight on Monday, inching Moscow closer to the lucrative regional civil aviation market.
As president, Vladimir Putin spearheaded efforts to revive Russia´s aviation industry through the Superjet-100, a regional jet which can carry between 75 - 95 passengers but the project has been hit a series of delays.
"The plane took off at 10 a.m. (0600 GMT) Moscow time, flew for an hour and then landed," a source at makers Sukhoi Civil Aviation said.
The first flight was due in late 2007, but was postponed repeatedly, raising questions about Sukhoi´s ability to meet tight production targets for its main launch customer, Russian airline Aeroflot (AFLT.MM: Quote, Profile, Research).
The Superjet has a catalogue price of $ 29 million and Sukhoi hopes to sell at least 800, with production of 60 to 70 planes a year by 2010. It has firm orders for about 73 of the aircraft.
U.S. planemaker Boeing (BA.N: Quote, Profile, Research) is jointly developing the Superjet. The plane must now make about 100 successful flights to pass safety criteria. Aeroflot is due to take possession of the first of 30 planes by the end of 2008. Other major purchasers include Russian regional airline Air Union, with an order of 15 planes and Russia´s state-owned Finance Leasing Company with an order of 10 planes, the planemaker has said.
Sukhoi has also drawn up aggressive export targets together with Italian partner Alenia Aeronautica (SIFI.MI: Quote, Profile, Research), with plans to sell 500 planes abroad.
At stake is the market for regional jets dominated by Brazil´s Embraer (EMBR3.SA: Quote, Profile, Research) (ERJ.N: Quote, Profile, Research) and Bombardier (BBDb.TO: Quote, Profile, Research) of Canada, though that is relatively small compared with the $ 60 billion spent annually on big jets made by Boeing and Europe´s Airbus.