Ilyushin Finance Co. (IFC), Russia’s oldest and largest aircraft leasing company, is planning to procure Western aircraft types to help the vast country’s airlines to meet soaring demand. Airline traffic grew 13.4 percent in 2011 and has continued at a similar pace this year.
Russia’s own aerospace industry currently produces very few commercial airplanes but airlines have often had barriers put in the way of deals to procure Western types. However, the logjam seems to have been broken, temporarily at least, and during 2012 IFC intends to buy 10 Western turboprops to add to the 20 CSeries jets it ordered last year from Canada’s Bombardier. It has also ordered 20 An-158s from Ukraine’s Antonov.
IFC’s aircraft assets comprise 33 An-124s, Il-96s, Tu-204/214s and An-148s, which in total are worth more than $1.1 billion. This year IFC added a level-D full-flight simulator for the An-148, in which it invested approximately $20 million. Last year, the lessor registered revenues of almost $167 million and an $8.3 million profit.
The leasing group’s general manager, Alexander Roubtsov, told AIN that the first pair of Ukrainian-built An-158s would be delivered to airline customer by year-end. Meanwhile, IFC is in the process of accepting its first An-148-100E from Russia’s Vaso and placing it with Angara Airline, which signed for three such airframes with two options. The “E” version differs from the six An-148-100Bs already with IFC in having an English-language cockpit and higher maximum takeoff weight.
The carrier plans to operate them from Irkutsk to six unpaved aerodromes in Siberia using subsidies from local authorities for “support of socially important transportation services.” About 40 percent of the 315 civil aerodromes in Russia have unpaved runways. Landing a $20 million asset on unpaved airstrips in Bodaibo, Imama or Lensk, for example, represents a serious test.
“It is perfectly fine to operate this airplane that way, provided the unpaved strips keep dry through summer or frozen in winter, but we will probably have to restrict operations to certain airfields in spring and autumn when their runways turn into mud,” said Roubtsov. “This is exactly the market niche for the An-148. And if the airplane proves capable of operating in the Siberian climates, I am sure it will take this market niche and also those in Africa and the Middle East. Entering service with Angara, the An-148 is, figuratively speaking, going into the operational environment it was designed for.”
Later, IFC plans to try a synthetic-vision system in the An-148 cockpit as this technology promises to considerably widen permissible weather conditions when making landings at poorly equipped airdromes. Russian avionics house Transas offers such a system, Roubtsov said, “but so far none of our airline customers has agreed to have this option, on price considerations. So we decided to operate the An-148 ‘as is’ for a while and come back to the synthetic vision later.”
It is normal practice for Siberian airlines to cancel flights to remote airports for a week or so due to weather conditions, but Roubtsov said that this practice cannot continue. “One day they will have to replace the ageing An-24s with more modern and expansive machines. [However], to operate them profitably, the airlines have to fly much.”
The An-148 has proved itself capable of high utilization rates in service with Rossiya. Its fleet of six aircraft performs 15 round-trips daily, and demonstrates average monthly flight time of 300 flight hours per airframe. “During initial operational service most of the teething problems have been cured, although we are still fighting some minor defects, most of them being computer glitches. We continue perfecting software packages and replacing certain chips with more modern and reliable ones.”
This summer IFC is to take its fourth four-engine Il-96-400T freighter and is deciding whether to place it with Polet, which already operates three, or to lease it out to the Russian armed forces as a special-mission platform.
Last year, IFC bought a used An-124 Ruslan freighter and this year it added a second, thereby entering a new market segment. These came from the airline Polet under “sale and leaseback” arrangements. IFC is seeking a role in arranging financial lease schemes on new Ruslans should their production restart. A newly built An-124NG/300 is expected to cost about $200 million.
“There are very few companies that can afford to buy such an asset, and there are very few airlines able to operate it profitably. Monthly rentals are to be in the region of $2- to $3 million, a big expense for any airline. I expect financial lease schemes to prevail when it comes to placing new Ruslans with airlines, and these will be based on not the asset, but the solvent capability of its operators. IFC is ready to take part in structuring such deals.”