Farnborough Air Show

Superjet team optimistic despite delays

 - July 3, 2008, 5:21 AM

Sukhoi (Hall 1 Stand E9) has come to the Farnborough show elated at having begun flight trials for its Superjet 100 airliner. This summer the Russian manufacturer expects to receive its first injection of new capital from Alenia Aeronautica in payment for the 25-percent stake it is buying in Sukhoi Civil Aircraft Co. (SCAC).

Last month, an Alenia spokesman confirmed the Italian anti-trust authority has
approved the purchase, but the final bureaucratic obstacles were still being cleared as this week’s show opens. Alenia is going to invest $250 million in the Superjet, of which roughly $100 million will buy its stake in SCAC, with the remainder going directly into program. In reality, Sukhoi and Alenia specialists are already working together via the Venice-based Superjet International 50/50 joint venture established last year.

This week Superjet is expected to publish an optimistic new market forecast evaluating its expectations for the Superjet family.

The report anticipates the launch of a stretched Superjet 100 that is now being dubbed SSJ1XX (previously referred to as the SSJ110 and/or SSJ130). The stretch would add 15 seats, taking the total cabin capacity to 110 passengers.

The forecast predicts demand for some 6,100 aircraft in the Superjet class over the next 20 years. This figure takes into account freighter, business jet and other special derivatives of the design.

Sukhoi market analysts see the Superjet as being in a segment ranging in capacity from 60 to 120 seats, putting it in direct competition with the Embraer E-Jet 170/175 and 190/195 families and Bombardier’s CRJ700/900/1000 series.
The researchers believe that the baseline Superjet 100 with 95 seats and a shrunken 75-seat version could account for as many as 1,040 sales–roughly 17 percent this market sector. The company expects operators in Russia and other members of the Commonwealth of Independent States to order 300 Superjets.

The Superjet prototype’s first two test flights, on May 19 and 24, lasted for 66 minutes and two-and-half hours, respectively. It was welcome boost in morale for a team facing a service-entry delay of at least five months.

Sukhoi now has to find a compromise among delivery dates with the following customers holding firm orders: Finance Lease (10 aircraft), Aeroflot (30), AirUnion (15), DalAvia (six), itAli (10) and Armenian Airlines (two). It has formed a special joint working group to address the issue in view of delays to the type certification project.

Late last month, SCAC president Victor Subbotin told AIN the certification is set for next April. Only three deliveries will take place next year and, although the working group has yet to confirm a new delivery schedule, it is likely that Armenian Airlines and Finance Lease will receive all three. If SCAC achieves its revised goal of delivering 30 aircraft in 2010 and 60 in 2011, this will take care of the current backlog.

Most of the operators appear to have accepted the delayed deliveries calmly. But Russian flagcarrier Aeroflot, which was keen to start Superjet services in January 2009 in accordance with a December 2005 contract, may be inclined to hold its ground. Speaking to AIN last month, Aeroflot general director Valery Okulov claimed the original schedule “is still on my desk, valid.”

After a first delivery in November 2008, the Aeroflot contract called for deliveries to proceed at a rate of one airplane per month. Today, Sukhoi and Aeroflot are negotiating a more realistic schedule, and Okulov publicly warned Subbotin, “Do not expect an easy life.”

Apparently, the warning was made to remind SCAC of what Aeroflot claims is its legal right to cancel the order for 30 Superjets with cabins configured with 12 seats in business class and 72 in an economy section. The contract gives Aeroflot a cancellation option if deliveries are delayed by more than six months and calls for compensation of $1.5 million for each aircraft not delivered on time.

Since it signed the contract, rising fuel prices prompted Aeroflot to stop operating what is currently its only regional jet, the 76-seat Tupolev Tu-134, last November. In the process, the carrier abandoned earlier plans to gradually replace old Tupolevs with Superjets.

As a solution, Aeroflot is to wet-lease 108-seat Boeing 737-500s from its independently operated subsidiaries in Arkhangelsk and Rostov-upon-Don. Between them, Aeroflot-Nord and Aeroflot-Don agreed to lease their parent airline 25 of the Boeing jets in a move approved by Aeroflot shareholders on June 4.

The solution has the potential to be more than a stop-gap measure since the 25 Boeing Classics combined offer 2,700 seats, compared with 952 on the 14 scrapped Tu-134s and 2,520 on the 30 Superjet 100s ordered. However, the Superjet, with its new-generation Powerjet SaM146 engines developed by NPO-Saturn and France’s Snecma, will undoubtedly deliver leaner efficient operating costs.

Meanwhile, after flying its first two missions, the first Superjet prototype (tail number RA95003) was towed back to the SCAC assembly hall in Komsomolsk-on-Amur for checks and to pressurize the fuselage for planned high-altitude trials. Other work is being done to account for an increase in takeoff weight, up from the initial baseline of almost 71,000 pounds.

In late June, the aircraft again came out of the former Su-27 Flanker fighter hangar to be prepared to start controllability and handling quality flight trials at weights closer to those advertised for airline operations. Some work also had to be done to resolve why the PowerJet SaM146 engines failed during a ground run in late May.

The flight-test program will resume with two prototypes, including RA95001. Upon completion of manufacturer trials, both will be ferried to Zhukovsky near Moscow, where they undergo certification tests by Russian aviation authorities. By year-end, two more Superjets will join the campaign.

Early information from the Komsomolsk site has indicated that the first test flights revealed several technical issues needing close attention. Most of them involve onboard systems from a dozen or so European and U.S. suppliers. Subbotin hinted to AIN that it may replace some vendors on the program.

SCAC aims to add at least another 35 orders to the current tally of 73 Superjets. It has not ruled out the possibility that it could announce some here at Farnborough this week.