The solemn ceremony dedicated to arrival of new An-158 aircraft to Havana was held at Jos? Mart? International Airport on April 23rd2013. It is the first serial aircraft of the type delivered to Cubana (three aircraft will be delivered to the carrier this year).
I witnessed the delivery of 3 aircraft over the last four years. I took part in the ceremony dedicated to delivery of first serial An-148 to Rossiya – Russian Airlines held in Voronezh in October 2009 and I was onboard during its first revenue flight. I also took part in the ceremony dedicated to delivery of first serial Sukhoi Superjet 100 to Armavia held in Zvartnots airport in April 2010. And finally I witnessed the delivery of An-158 to Cubana in Havana in April 2013. However, I have seen such jets before. The first official demonstration of new An-158 prototype took place in Kiev in April 2010. I have also seen the prototype performing flights. And now we are welcoming the first serial aircraft of the type built for commercial operation.
We had to wait for a long time at Jos? Mart? International Airport. An-158 is a short-haul aircraft (such jets are often called the regional aircraft) and it cannot perform transatlantic flights. It had to make two intermediate stops during the flight to Cuba – in Iceland and Canada. In the final stage of the flight the jet with Cuban flag had to make it through the airspace of “friendly” United States. That is why the exact time of the jet’s arrival was specified as “today”. The Cubans tried to hide their excitement in vain. Their impatience to see the new aircraft showed through. It is like someone waiting for all the documents to be finalized at a car dealer while purchasing a new car. The longer you wait the more you want to possess the desired object. The Cubans have not received new aircraft for a long time.
And only when the sun reached the horizon the jet arrived. An-158 was approaching with lights on; it flew by us at extremely low altitude and then suddenly retracted landing gear and ascended instead of making a touch-down. It was so spectacular and surprising that the crowd made of welcomers, journalists and the airport’s employees gasped.
The jet made the “honor lap” and landed at the runway. After that the aircraft traditionally rolled through the water arch made by two fire trucks. However, it seemed like the firefighting personnel did not understand their objective completely: they tried to pour the water on the jet aiming the water cannons at its airframe even when the aircraft has already rolled past them.
And when the jet stopped at the VIP terminal the crowd almost ran to it. The line of officials walking in front of the crowd was the only constraining factor. They have tried hard to observe the proprieties and not to run. When the door opened and the crew members came out of the jet the Cubans started to embrace them and the crowd rushed inside the aircraft. This time journalists had to take a back seat and wait for all the guests to satisfy their curiosity.
The southern twilight is short and I had about 15 minutes to carry out “visual inspection”. The aircraft was manufactured by Antonov Serial Plant – Branch of Antonov Company. Judging by my internal sensation this jet’s airframe was not made as carefully as the airframe of An-148 manufactured in Voronezh. Possibly this may be caused by a long gap in production of serial aircraft by Aviant (former name of the Kiev-based enterprise). Anyway these are my knocks rather than the revealed problems. Nobody expects any surprises from An-158 – in fact the jet is the “enlarged” modification of An-148, whose serial production was launched several years ago (the jet is manufactured in Voronezh, some components of its airframe are supplied from Kiev), the development of all the aircraft systems has been completed and most of the teething problems have been solved. Brigadier General Ram?n Mart?nez Echevarr?a, president of the Corporation CACSA of the Civil Aviation, said: “We are impressed by the outstanding results of An-148 jets operated by Rossiya – Russian Airlines and we expect the same from An-158 aircraft”.
Despite the fact that the aircraft is manufactured by Ukraine, Russia is interested in promoting An-158, because the share of An-158 aircraft’s components manufactured by Russian enterprises is 61%. The Minister of Industry and Trade, Denis Manturov, said during his meeting with the students of Moscow Aviation Institute, that Russia is interested in supporting not only national airframers but also suppliers of components and equipment. The jet is being manufactured in cooperation with United Aircraft Corporation (UAC), United Engine Corporation (UEC) and Russian Technologies State Corporation. The enterprises are supplying materials, aircraft systems, avionics, components of the airframe, interior, etc. Russian enterprises are also taking part in production of D-436-148 engine (the share of the engine’s components produced by Russian enterprises is about 80%). About 7-8% of An-158’s components are manufactured in France, Germany and USA. However, this cooperation does not violate the sanctions against Cuba imposed by the USA, because the share of the jet’s components produced in Europe and USA is less than 10% (specified by the USA).
The interior made by Rusaviainter Company (Russia) surprised me - the new An-158 outmatches An-148 manufactured in 2009 in this category. At first sight it looks the same, but if you look closely at the manufacturing quality you will see significant progress. Beautiful state-of-the-art cabin seating 97 passengers, comfortable seats, spacious overhead bins (for a regional aircraft), individual conditioning system, two lavatories, etc. And this is the basic configuration.
Honestly speaking, Russian manufacturers of aircraft interiors are making solid progress in recent years. They have an experience in making individual VIP-interiors, they have invested significant funds in development of their own enterprises, they have gained a vast experience in the area of after-sales service of foreign aircraft’s interiors and established connection with the suppliers and now they are ready to develop and supply interiors to the aviation plants. At that Russian interiors are as good as the foreign ones in terms of design and manufacturing quality. For example, Sukhoi Civil Aircraft Company (SCAC) has chosen a foreign company for supplying the interior for Sukhoi Superjet 100. As a result most issues were connected with the interior and its manufacturing quality. In the end SCAC had to turn to Russian companies – in particular, they are taking part in production and assembly of the interior of the SSJ100’s cockpit. In future Russian companies will participate in tender for development of new interior of the jet’s cabin.
An-158 has a state-of-the-art cockpit, which is up there with the rivals. And here we see the complete package of necessary equipment in the jet’s basic configuration. For example, the jet is fitted with weather radar with wind shear, which is still a rare option for Russian-produced aircraft. In short, Cubana never had such an advanced and high-tech aircraft before. The carrier’s fleet comprises Tu-204, Il-96, An-24, ATR42 aircraft and several leased А320s. And all these aircraft have been delivered to Cuba by Ilyushin Finance & Co.
Now let’s discuss the contract on delivery of An-158 aircraft to Cuba. Russian leasing company Ilyushin Finance & Co. (IFC) is thelaunch customer of An-158. The agreement on delivery of 10 aircraft of the type with an option for another 10 ones was signed by IFC and Antonov Company in 2011 at Le Bourget airshow. The contract between Cubana and IFC on delivery of three An-158s (with an option for three more jets) was signed at MAKS-2011 airshow. According to CEO of IFC, Alexander Rubtsov, the option for three An-158s will be exercised soon and the jets will be delivered to the customer in the third quarter of 2014. Another important fact – the jets are being delivered to Cuba in the network of governmental decree N141 about the provision of guarantees on state credits signed in February 2013 during the visit of the Russian prime-minister Dmitry Medvedev to Cuba. “Governmental decree N141 expands the capabilities of Russian leasing companies and forms an important basis for further deliveries of Russian-produced aircraft”, - Alexander Rubtsov noted.
Roseksimbank (Russia) and South America Aircraft Leasing (Panama) are also taking part in the deal. Roseksimbank and SAAL signed a credit agreement to the amount of $75 million in late 2012. The agreement assumes financing of delivery of three An-158 aircraft to Aviaimport S.A. state company (Cuba) through IFC under conditions of financing leasing. The syndication of the credit was performed by Roseksimbank. According to the bank, Roseksimbank has already financed the deliveries of aircraft and equipment to Cuba to the amount of over $330 million. All the deals have obtained state guarantees to the amount of $550 million provided by Russian Federation. According to the contract, the jets are delivered to Cubana under conditions of financial leasing for a period of 14 years. IFC believes that the same scheme may be used for deliveries of Sukhoi Superjet 100 aircraft to South-East Asia. IFC and Sukhoi Civil Aircraft Company (SCAC) are considering such possibility and the firm contract on delivery of 15 SSJ 100s with an option for another 5 aircraft of the type should be signed over the next couple of months.
However, it took some time to figure out why so many organizations are taking part in this deal. For instance, why is another leasing company participating along with IFC? And why must it be based in Panama? The answers for these questions appeared to be simple and prosaic. The case is that IFC must pay VAT (18%) while purchasing Ukrainian-produced aircraft and so the cost of the delivery significantly increases. However, in fact the jet is being exported from Ukraine to Cuba instead of being imported to Russia. In order to solve this problem of Russian Internal Revenue Code the parties decided to find a foreign partner. The foreign company acts as the customer for An-158 aircraft and the lessor for Cubana. And such company was found – the agreement between IFC and SAAL was signed at Farnborough 2012 airshow. And why did they choose Panamanian lessor? They needed to find a country with a high sovereign rating, advanced legal system and active guarantees provided in the network of Cape Town Convention. And the most important thing is that Panama has no issues with Cuba. Panama was the optimal jurisdiction by anydefinition. IFC acts as an intermediary in this deal (the jets are sold to SAAL, 85% of their cost are paid using a credit provided byRoseksimbank and the rest 15% are paid by Aviaimport S.A.) receiving the VAT refund. The actual owner of the aircraft and the lessor for Cubana is SAAL (Panama).
In fact, the professional leasing companies are intended exactly for financing the purchase of aircraft, optimizing and fixing the payments, organizing the acceptance and delivery of the aircraft on behalf of the carrier. While the carrier must train its crews, provide the maintenance base for the aircraft and start operating the aircraft as soon as possible. The pilots of Cubana have passed training in Kiev and Cuban crew participated in the jet’s ferry flight along with the Ukrainian pilots. The specialists of Jos? Mart? International Airport’s aircraft maintenance base have also passed necessary training in Kiev. They will be carrying out maintenance of the jets, including serious diagnostics and modular maintenance. A workshop for maintenance of PS-90 engines has been established at the airport’s aircraft maintenance base and soon it will also start carrying out maintenance D-436-148 engines. A division of IFC-Technik is taking part in the abovementioned work.
It was expected that the jet would perform its first domestic flight on May 10th 2013. It will start performing international flights to Mexico, Jamaica, Nicaragua, etc. in late 2013. Cuba is also negotiating with IFC over deliveries of Il-96-400 and Tu-204SM aircraft. The tourist traffic from Canada and Latin America to Cuba is increasing year by year. And now Havana starts thinking of connecting passengers. For example, during visit of Dmitry Medvedev to Cuba, the Cuban party hinted at the possibility of creating a joint Russian-Cuban hub on the basis of one of the old Soviet military airfields located close to Havana. I think we should take it seriously. Nowadays Russian citizens have to travel to most countries of Latin America through Europe. At that the longest and most expensive part of the flight is accounted for European airlines. In case of creating our own hub in Caribbean the Russian carriers will be able to transport passengers there under their own power and then carry them to different regions from the hub in cooperation with the Cuban airlines. However, it is nothing more than the idea. There are a lot of projects and promises in our country and not enough actions. But the deliveries of Russian and Russian-Ukrainian jets to Cuba are real.