The list of airlines operating Russia’s new Sukhoi Superjet 100 regional jetliner is set to expand shortly. In the next few months, the manufacturer Sukhoi Civil Aircraft Company plans to begin deliveries to more Russian customers and also to hand over the first examples to carriers in Indonesia and Laos.
In a parallel effort, preparations are under way to deliver several SSJ 100s to the first Western operator, the Mexican carrier Interjet. These airframes will be delivered through SuperJet International (SJI), a joint venture between Russia’ Sukhoi and Italy’s Alenia Aermacchi. SJI is also responsible for customizing the airliners to meet the customer’s requirements.
The first SSJ 100 for Interjet was assembled at SCAC’s production facility in Komsomolsk-on-Amur in September. Following the flight trials this "green" aircraft (serial no. 92023) arrived in Venice, the home town of SJI, on October 6.
Customization work on the aircraft will be carried out at the SJI completion center at Marco Polo airport in Venice, whose hangar can accommodate three SSJ 100s at once. SJI will paint the aircraft in the Interjet livery and install a new passenger cabin interior designed by the Italian company Pininfarina (all previous SSJ 100s have a cabin from the US company B/E Aerospace). In the next few months the Russo-Italian JV expects to obtain an EASA supplementary type certificate for the newly equipped version of the aircraft.
Interjet has 20 SSJ 100s on order for a total of $700 mln; 15 of these were ordered in 2011 and a further five got converted from options in summer 2012. All the aircraft will have 93 all-economy seats. The Mexican aviation authority validated the SSJ 100 type certificate in April 2012.
Interjet is expected to receive its first SSJ 100 in March 2013. According to SJI CEO Nazario Cauceglia, the JV plans to deliver nine SSJ 100s to Mexico in 2013; the remaining 11 are to follow in 2014. All these airliners will be in the SSJ 100/95B baseline version, although Interjet earlier announced its intention to have some of the batch in the long-range variant. "Earlier this year together with SCAC specialists we conducted in-depth analysis of Interjet’s route network and came to a conclusion that the baseline variant is the most preferable for this airline," Cauceglia explained.
Interjet, the second largest airline in Mexico, operates from Mexico City and Toluca airports to 32 domestic destinations, and also flies to the USA, Cuba, and Costa Rica. Its fleet currently consists of 34 Airbus A320s.
Cauceglia does not rule out that Interjet will get the SSJ 100LR version in the future as part of its 10-ship option. According to Mikhail Pogosyan, president of SCAC parent company United Aircraft Corporation (UAC), the first long-range modification (with a range of 5,578 km against the baseline’s 3,048 km) will be delivered to the Russian carrier Gazpromavia in July 2013.
SJI was set up in 2007 and is in charge of marketing, sales, customization and deliveries of Superjet 100 aircraft to Europe, the Americas, Oceania, Africa, and Japan; its functions also include crew training and worldwide aftersales support. The company currently employs 260 personnel, 30% of whom are Russian.
In November this year the company expects to receive a Thales full-flight simulator for its training center in Venice to support Interjet pilot training from January 2013. At present, cockpit and ground crew training for SSJ 100 customers is being carried out at a facility in Zhukovsky, outside Moscow, which has a range of training equipment, including a Thales Reality 7 FFS.
Although SJI is keen to promote SSJ 100 on the European market, these efforts have not been successful so far. Italy’s largest carrier Alitalia preferred not to wait for the aircraft’s EASA certification (completed in February 2012) and instead chose Embraer E175 and E190 aircraft to renew its regional fleet. SJI currently has an MoU with another Italian airline, Blue Panorama. The carrier signed up for 15 SSJ 100s in 2011 but the future of the deal is questionable. SJI president Carmelo Cosentino says the signing of a firm contract has been delayed by Blue Panorama’s attempted merger with Alitalia. The merger eventually failed, but now Blue Panorama is looking for new investors to take a final decision on the SSJ 100 purchase, Cosentino explains.
Corporate version takes shape
SJI is also responsible for the development and completion of the SSJ 100 VIP variant. The version was launched in 2011 with the order for two such jets (plus two options) from the Swiss-based VIP charter operator Comlux. The Sukhoi Business Jet is expected to be based on the SSJ 100/95LR modification, with additional fuel tanks in the cargo hold, integral stairs, and satcom equipment. According to SCAC, the SBJ will come in three cabin layouts: the eight-passenger VIP version, the 19-passenger government modification, and the 38-seat corporate charter, with 7,880 km, 7,415 km, and 6,450 km range, respectively. The SBJ list price stands at $50 mln; certification is expected in 2014.
The VIP version is expected to attract the interest of Russian customers too. According to Pogosyan, Russian government agencies could order about 30-40 airframes. In October 2012 the Russian Cabinet discussed the possibility of placing a consolidated order from various government and paramilitary organizations for domestically manufactured commercial aircraft, including the SSJ 100. This measure is seen as a new method of supporting the country’s aircraft industry, to replace direct subsidies.
Breaking into new regions
The SSJ 100 order backlog currently stands at 179 aircraft. SCAC has already delivered 10 examples to Russia’s largest carrier Aeroflot: five in 2011 and another five this year. In October 2012 the manufacturer finally managed to settle a dispute over the terms of SSJ 100 deliveries to the launch operator Armavia (Armenia).
In summer 2012, Armavia threatened to cancel its order for two SSJ 100s and to return the first aircraft, which it had been operating since April 2011. The conflict broke out due to the parties’ failure to reach a compromise on the lease agreement drafted by Russia’s Vneshekonombank. Armavia’s first SSJ 100 (serial no. 96007, tail no. EK 95015) stayed in Russia for several months following a regular check, then was returned to the operator on October 2 after the parties had agreed that it would be leased directly from the manufacturer. According to SCAC, this agreement will be valid for six month, "after which the parties will meet again to continue discussions of the issue."
Negotiations are ongoing on the terms of delivery of Armavia’s second SSJ 100 (serial no. 95021), SCAC says. This airframe was originally slated for delivery on June 22; it is currently kept at the SCAC center in Zhukovsky.
In November this year the manufacturer plans to start deliveries to Russia’s Yakutia Airlines, which has two on order. The carrier has already started training four flight crews for the new type. The first Yakutia SSJ 100 has been painted in the carrier livery at the Aviastar plant in Ulyanovsk. In summer 2012 SCAC started outsourcing SSJ 100 completion operations to this UAC-controlled production facility as part of the general effort to increase production rates at its main facility in Komsomolsk-on-Amur.
In late 2012 — early 2013 SCAC is expected to deliver the first SSJ 100s to the Indonesian carrier Sky Aviation (12 aircraft on order) and to the Laotian operator Lao Central (three aircraft). The first airframe for Indonesia commenced flight trials in October; deliveries should start as soon as the Indonesian Directorate General of Civil Aviation has validated the SSJ 100 type certificate. The validation process has been reportedly delayed due to the crash of a SSJ 100 during a demonstration flight outside Jakarta in May 2012; the DGCA is now expected to announce its decision within weeks. Laotian approval of the SSJ 100 certificate could follow in December 2012 or January 2013.