While the May 9 crash of a Superjet 100 during a demonstration flight in Indonesia most importantly took a human toll, it also might have dealt a serious blow to the aspirations of the Russian civil aircraft industry to compete with Western manufacturers in the global market. Slowly gaining operational experience with Aeroflot and Armavia, the program has struggled to gain acceptance among Western airlines, largely due to the negative reputation earned by the Soviet airliner industry and two decades of subsequent Russian irrelevance. Now, it will carry a blemish to its image no amount of marketing by Sukhoi and Superjet International can easily remove, at least until investigators rule out a technical fault.
Search-and-rescue crews found the airplane’s wreckage last Thursday, a day after it went missing over mountainous terrain south of Jakarta, Indonesia. A helicopter spotted the shattered remains of the airplane strewn down the face of a cliff near Indonesia’s Mount Salak, some 60 miles sound of Jakarta.
The airplane, MSN 95004, had departed Jakarta’s Halim Perdana Kusuma Airport at 2 p.m. local time Wednesday on a demonstration flight for Asian airline executives and local reporters. A crewmember and passenger list released by Sukhoi confirmed the airplane carried 45 people, including SSJ100 chief pilot Alexander Yablontsev and copilot Alexander Kocketkov. Yablontsev had logged more than 10,000 hours and commanded the first flight of the SSJ100’s first prototype.
Passengers included an executive from French engine maker Snecma and a U.S. pilot who flew for Indonesian domestic airline Sriwijaya Air. The document also listed eight Sukhoi employees, nine flight attendants, the maintenence manager and three staff members from Indonesian regional airline Sky Aviation and representatives from fellow Indonesian carriers Pelita Air, Kartika Airlines and Air Maleo.
Some 20 minutes into the planned 50-minute flight, the crew asked ATC for permission to descend to 6,000 feet from 10,000 feet. Soon afterward controllers lost radio contact.
The aircraft’s arrival in Indonesia marked the fourth stop in a six-country Asian demonstration tour. It had already visited Pakistan, Kazakhstan and Myanmar and schedules called for it to go to Laos and Vietnam over the next few days.
In a written statement, Superjet International, the Venice, Italy-based Western sales and support entity for the SSJ100, confirmed that the airplane had gone on an earlier demonstration flight on Wednesday without any technical problems. It added that the crew did not report any failures before it disappeared from radar screens.
MSN 95004 flew for the first time on July 25, 2009, and had accumulated more than 800 flight hours during 500 flights. According to Superjet International, it never experienced a “serious” technical problem.