The Sukhoi Superjet 100 is the only live aircraft to represent Russia at the Farnborough airshow this summer. This regional jet remains the country’s top-priority commercial aircraft program. Several dozen SSJ 100s already demonstrate good operational results both in Russia and abroad. The manufacturer, Sukhoi Civil Aircraft Company (SCAC), is successfully increasing production rates and looking for ways to improve its only product.
SCAC uses Farnborough airshow for the international debut of the aircraft’s long range version. It has brought the SSJ 100LR in the livery of Russia’s third largest carrier UTair Aviation. This is the second airframe out of UTair’s six of the type, all ordered in 103-seat all-economy configuration. They will be operated by the carrier’s regional subsidiary UTair Express. The first airliner has already been delivered.
The launch customer for the SSJ 100, Russia’s largest carrier Aeroflot, has recently completed the replacement of the initial batch of 10 aircraft with the same number of so-called full specification airframes. These are equipped with an upgraded flight management system (FMS) and have a weather radar with a wind detection function. The modification features additional video control cameras, improved interior design and an extra cabin crew seat by the wall of the optional galley in the back of the aircraft. Aeroflot’s order comprises 30 airframes. According to SCAC, the airline will receive eight more aircraft by the end of 2014.
SCAC has delivered more than 30 SSJ 100s to eight Russian and foreign airlines since 2011. These aircraft have already performed more than 30,000 revenue flights, logging more than 45,000 flight hours.
Since 2013, the type has been successfully proving its efficiency on the American market. The Mexican carrier Interjet, which has 20 SSJ 100s on order with an option for 10 more, already operates eight examples in a bespoke 93-seat all-economy layout courtesy of the Venice-based Russo-Italian joint venture SuperJet International (SJI).
Interjet operates SSJ 100s from Mexico City to 11 domestic destinations and plans to put them on international routes to the U.S. The airline reports that the U.S. aviation authorities have cleared the type for such services. Interjet has trained 56 pilots and 102 technicians for the Russian aircraft.
The latest data from Interjet indicates that its SSJ 100s perform 5.31 flights per day on average, which is slightly higher than the statistics for the carrier’s longer-haul Airbus A320 fleet (5.28). The average daily flight time for a single SSJ 100 stands at 5.87 hours, peaking at 11 hours.
“We are very proud with the new Sukhoi Superjet 100 aircraft that became part of the Interjet fleet in September 2013,” says CEO Jose Luis Garza. “It has perfect productivity with more than 99% dispatch reliability, high passenger comfort and low operating costs. We are very glad with the choice of the SSJ 100.”
These operational results are backed by SuperJet International’s solid after-sales support system. Interjet’s fleet of SSJ 100s is maintained under the innovative SuperCare pay-by-the hour program. SJI has set up a spare parts stock in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, which currently supports Interjet but can also serve any other customer in the Americas. SJI also keeps its engineering team on the ground and runs a 24/7 customer support center in Venice, Italy.
The SSJ 100 production program’s current backlog comprises 182 firm orders. Last year, SCAC rolled out 25 aircraft from its Komsomolsk-on-Amur production facility in Russia’s Far East. The manufacturer expects to further ramp up production to accommodate faster deliveries to the existing customers. Since the beginning of this year the facility has manufactured 15 green airframes, but SCAC aims to reach the level of 40 assembled aircraft in 2014.
The current production cycle at Komsomolsk-on-Amur is 10 days per airframe. It should shrink to seven days in the second half of the year, says Dmitry Bloshinsky, director of the Komsomolsk-on-Amur SCAC branch. He adds that the various stages of the SSJ 100 assembly line have been successfully tested for the increased production rates. SCAC does not plan to physically expand the line, which currently consists of six assembly platforms, but the fuselage assembly shop with its four working stations will be expanded. The production rate increase will also become possible thanks to better personnel training, improved logistics, and the application of LEAN technologies, Bloshinsky explains.
The higher rate of production will require corresponding efforts from the program suppliers. The fuselage sections and other components come from different subsidiaries of SCAC parent company United Aircraft Corporation, which are located in Komsomolsk-on-Amur, Voronezh, and Ulyanovsk. The program involves more than 70 Russian and international suppliers. The production rate for SAM146 engines will also be increased, from eight to 10 engines per month, says Georgy Konyukhov, deputy head of design at the engine specialist Powerjet. This joint venture between Safran of France and Russia’s NPO Saturn delivers the engines from its production line in Rybinsk, European Russia.
From the assembly line the green aircraft are flown to the completion centers either in Venice or in Ulyanovsk in the European part of Russia. The former is operated by SuperJet International, and is currently busy outfitting the aircraft destined for the first Western customer, which is Interjet. The Ulyanovsk-based center serves Russian and Asian customers.
The higher production rates will make it possible to build 40 SSJ 100s in 2014 and a further 50 airframes in 2015, Bloshinsky says. The Komsomolsk-on-Amur facility’s maximum production capacity stands at 60 airframes per year.
SCAC sources acknowledge that the growing competition on the global regional aircraft market is forcing the company to contemplate further improvements to the SSJ 100’s performance. According to SCAC Deputy Chief Designer for Aerodynamics Alexander Dolotovsky, the next step in terms of aerodynamic improvements will involve the introduction of wing tips. SCAC has already tested various shapes in a wind tunnel and selected a variant that will give the aircraft another 3% of fuel efficiency, enabling the SSJ 100 to compete against the Embraer E2 family. Dolotovsky adds that the installation of wing tips may begin in 2016-17. The manufacturer promises a retrofit option for the existing fleet too. The first models of the E-Jet E2 family are expected to enter service in 2018.
Dolotovsky confirms that SCAC continues work on a stretched SSJ 100 version, specifying that the program is currently between the Gate II and Gate III stages. The new variant is likely to have an MTOW of up to 53 tons, compared to the current SSJ 100’s 45-49 tons. The aircraft’s passenger capacity is expected to increase from the current 100 seats to 130, but a final decision on the stretched capacity will not be made until 2015. The new version will require a new wing, but will be based on the same technology, says Dolotovsky. The engine choice has not been defined yet, but a SCAC source says that the current SaM146 might do. The powerplant comes in two flavors: the 17,300 lbf thrust for the SSJ 100 baseline and the 17,800 lbf for the longer-range variant.
SCAC has also been flirting with a more profound modernization, dubbed Superjet NG, which would involve new capacity, avionics and engines. This program has been suspended until 2016 due to the lack of government funding, Dolotovsky explains.