Dubai Air Show

Syria to choose between Airbus and Russian jets

 - December 6, 2006, 12:04 PM

Airbus is competing with Russia’s Ilyushin-Finance Co. (IFC) and Tupolev for a Syrian government tender to supply seven airliners to Syrian Air. When Syria issued the tender in February this year, the stated requirement called for four 185- to 225-seat narrowbodies as replacements for six Boeing 727s and three Tupolev Tu-154s, and three 280- to 320-seat widebodies to replace a pair of Boeing 747SPs.

A preliminary assessment favored Airbus, but other considerations may well come into play.

“We have already placed six A320s with Syrian Air,” Airbus senior sales vice-president Christopher Buckley told Aviation International News. “The tender [for additional aircraft] is on, and we are working with Syrian Air right now, trying to place more aircraft.” However, the increasingly tough Bush Administration stance toward Syria will likely result in new restrictions on U.S. technology exports to the country. Airbus has warned Damascus that it will observe all current and future U.S. export restrictions, since its airliners carry significant U.S. content.

That factor could tilt the competition entirely in the Russians’ favor. Acknowledging that the A320 came first in the technical assessment, Tupolev chief designer Oleg Alasheyev said the Airbus faces more risk from U.S. trade sanctions. “The American sanctions also apply to Western items on the Tu-204,” he admitted. “But if the embargo terms become stricter the negotiations shift to [Russian] PS90A-powered variants, and if they are relaxed, the talks shift back to the Rolls-Royce-powered version.”

In fact, U.S. avionics on the Tu-204, including both Honeywell and Rockwell Collins products, present a bigger problem. With that in mind, Alasheyev said that a Russian-equipped cockpit might prove necessary even on standard PS90A-powered variants.

Ilyushin-Finance thinks the Il-96-300M (which also includes Western avionics), with its gross weight increased to just over 550,000 pounds, can win the widebody part of the Syrian tender. “We can deliver the first aircraft as early as this year and two more in 2006,” IFC technical director Yuri Ostrovsky told AIN. IFC-Technik would provide maintenance and support and establish local spare parts warehouses.

The Russian government has applied political pressure on Damascus by linking the outcome of the airliner order contest to outstanding Syrian state debts to Moscow.

In January 2005 Syrian President Bashar Assad visited Moscow to persuade his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin to write off 80 percent of the debt. The Kremlin tentatively agreed, with a rider that Damascus should favor Russian suppliers in government tenders.