Sukhoi Civil Aircraft is negotiating a new sales contract for the Russian Regional Jet and may be able to announce the deal here at Dubai 2005 tomorrow, a company spokeswoman told Aviation International News yesterday. The deal will certainly not involve Aeroflot, however, as the Russian flagcarrier continues to weigh its options on a purchase of 30 regional jets, a decision it expects to announce by the end of the year.
The various suppliers have begun fabricating the first long-lead-time components for the six RRJ prototypes planned for the certification program. The Knaapo plant in Komsomolsk-na-Amur in eastern Russia will build the prototypes, scheduled for first flight in March 2007. Sukhoi now expects the airplane to gain Russian certification at the end of 2008. The European Aviation Safety Agency has already appointed personnel to the project, and Sukhoi expects a visit from an agency official within the next week or so.
Meanwhile, the Russian builder of the rival Antonov An-148–the VAPO plant in Voronezh–has begun to build parts of the RRJ’s wing. Engine supplier PowerJet has started assembling the first SaM 146 turbofan and expects to run the first core imminently.
Sukhoi has signed all but five of the major suppliers to the program. Goodrich, Messier-Dowty, Vibrometer, Honeywell and Hamilton Sundstrand account for the last holdouts. The management of Italy’s Finmeccanica expects to present to its board its proposal to take a 25-percent stake in the company, worth some $250 million. Under the plan, Alenia would help market and support the project, as well as consult on design, development or manufacturing.
Another issue for Sukhoi involves the amount of foreign content in the airplane. Russia imposes a 20-percent import tax and 20-percent VAT on foreign products–the chief reason Western aircraft makers have failed to break into the market in any meaningful way. However, the Russian parliament is considering a proposal to relax or completely abolish the tax in a way that would benefit the RRJ but not necessarily create more competition from the likes of Embraer, for example. It plans to finish drafting the document in February.
So far drawing a single firm order for 10 airplanes from Russia’s Finance Lease Co. (FLC), the RRJ remains behind the Antonov An-148 in both sales and development progress. Most recently, the 70-seat Ukrainian jet won a commitment from the government of Khazakhstan to buy seven. Siberia’s KrasAir plans to become the first to fly the airplane in scheduled service next spring, when it starts taking deliveries of a planned batch of 12. During August’s Moscow airshow, Ilyushin Finance Leasing signed lease contracts with St. Petersburg’s Pulkovo Aviation for 18 and Voronezh-based Polyot Airlines for 20, including five cargo versions. KrasAir also agreed to take one of the program’s prototypes, refurbished as an 18-seat VIP variant.
Of course, the RRJ represents a much more ambitious attempt to reach a global audience than the An-148. Forging all the partnerships needed in and of itself represents a monumental task, as does securing the financing needed to fund a $1 billion start-up project. Powered by Russian engines and using an airframe that borrows many of the traits of earlier Antonov designs, the An-148 benefited greatly from the project’s relative simplicity and ample funding provided by the company’s airline division.
Sukhoi, conversely, wants to sell the RRJ in markets outside Russia, where it would compete directly with Western products such as the Embraer 170 and 190. But with more ambition comes more risk; the An-148 has already proved it can succeed within Antonov’s traditional markets. The RRJ aspires to reach customers no Russian civil airframer has ever reached before.