Tu-334 okayed, with asterisk

 - July 24, 2007, 10:16 AM

Russia’s Air Register of International Aviation Committee (AMRAK) in late June awarded the Tupolev Tu-334 regional jet AP-25 certification, allowing revenue operation of the RSK MiG/Aviant-built 102-seat jets after five years of intermittent test flying. The approval, which hypothetically parallels FAR Part 25, came just two months after RSK MiG director Vladimir Toryanin threatened to shut down program development for lack of funds. The abrupt AMRAK announcement raised further questions because the program had yet to fly the third prototype–supposedly a prerequisite for full certification.

Former Sukhoi deputy director Toryanin assumed control of MiG from Nikolai Nikitin in a controversial shakeup that raised suspicions that government aerospace agency Rosaviacosmos wanted its own man to control MiG’s growing cash flow from the sale of MiG-29 fighters to Bangladesh, Myanmar, Eritrea and Sudan. The controversy prompted a group of parliamentarians to call for the dismissal of Rosaviacosmos director Yuri Koptev for “acts aimed at destabilizing RSK-MiG.” Last October Sukhoi directors elected Koptev as chairman of the company, fueling rumors that he wanted to absorb MiG into Sukhoi and cancel the Tu-334 in favor of the Sukhoi-led Russian Regional Jet. Whether the parliament’s move prompted a renewed “commitment” to the Tu-334 remains fodder for speculation, but perhaps coincidentally, perhaps not, Koptev remains at his government post.

Yet another group of lawmakers filed a proposal called “National Priority Regime for the Tu-334 Air Vehicle,” which called for a temporary exemption from value-added and property taxes for RSK MiG and “favorable” customs treatment for imported parts such as the airplane’s Ukrainian-made ZMKB Progress D436T1 turbofans. Based on Nikitin’s “National Project 334,” the exemptions will last until MiG builds 100 airplanes. MiG estimates the relief will drop the price of a Tu-334 from about $19 million to $13 million.

RSK MiG has allegedly drawn firm orders for five airplanes apiece from Moscow-based Atlant Soyuz and Aerofrakht Airlines. Russia’s second-largest airline, St. Petersburg-based Pulkovo, has signed a tentative commitment for 20. Launch customer Atlant Soyuz said it expects first deliveries early next year. Ukraine’s Aviant, builder of the second prototype, has finished preparing its plant for serial production of the airplane, while RSK MiG continues construction of a new facility outside Moscow.