The only aircraft to represent the Russian civil aircraft industry on static display here at the Dubai Airshow, the Sukhoi SuperJet 100 is making an impression on both sides of the globe as Mexico’s Interjet prepares to press into service its third example of the 100-seat regional jet.
Speaking with AIN last week at the Alta Airline Leaders Forum in Cancun, Mexico, Nazario Cauceglia, CEO of the SSJ100’s Western sales, support and marketing arm SuperJet International, addressed some of the airplane’s early production rate issues. Cauceglia said he anticipates delivery of 25 aircraft in 2013 and an increase to 40 deliveries in 2014. He added that the production facilities in Komsomolsk-on-Amur, Russia, will cut the final assembly time per aircraft from 20 days to 10 days by 2015.
He attributed the slow start in ramping up production in part to the fact that, unlike competitors, the SuperJet 100 represented a clean-sheet design with anticipated growing pains. But the end result, he said, amounts to “a marriage of Russian design skills and Western technology.”
One example is the Russian-made SaM146 PowerJet engines, a joint venture of engine manufacturers Saturn and Snecma–Russian and French, respectively. And the combination of the engine and wing design, said Superjet International, has resulted in a 5-percent better fuel burn than competitors although it believes that “seven or eight percent is possible.”
An early bottleneck created by fuselage- and wing-mating problems has been solved and the introduction of new efficiencies is already bearing fruit. Among them was a decision to provide each worker with his own kit and specified responsibilities, and digital photographs taken through the entire assembly process that allowed an easy review of what was right and what was wrong.
The first two customers for the Superjet 100 were Russia’s Aeroflot and Yakulia, and Cauceglia sees the start of deliveries earlier this year to Mexico’s Interjet as a foot in the door of the western market. The third Superjet 100 for Interjet landed in Toluca, Mexico on November 6.
“Another SSJ100 is now flying in the Americas and [SuperJet International] is determined to become a competitive player in the regional segment,” declared Cauceglia at the Alta forum. “The SSJ100 is merging into a single product the comfort of a narrow-body with the reduced costs and flexibility of a regional jet.”
Based on activity of the first two SSJ100s in service at Interjet, the company has announced a dispatch reliability better than 99 percent, and average daily utilization of nine flight hours. The fourth Interjet SSJ100 is now being prepared at the SuperJet International delivery center in Italy, and the airline has firm orders for a total of 20 aircraft, plus options for 10 more in 93-seat, 34-inch pitch configuration.
Asked whether the North America market might already be saturated, Cauceglia pointed out that the SuperJet International competitors are all derivatives of older designs. “Our product is the only all-new aircraft in that market [and] I think there is room for another competitor.”
In the meantime, he sees Latin America as a growth market for the SSJ100. “The Superjet 100 program is maturing and quickly becoming the preferred regional solution in Latin America and it is the ideal complement to narrowbody operations.”
Cauceglia said negotiations are continuing with regard to a restructuring of the Superjet 100 partnership but he denied suggestions that it might negatively affect the continued growth of sales. He likened it to the normal process of adjusting to a growing program.
Pilot training is also becoming a priority as production and deliveries grow. “Pilots like this airplane, and to date we have trained more than 250 of them in the SSJ100.”
Meanwhile, SuperJet International is making plans for “a new and aggressive” marketing campaign; first in “Latin America and Africa,” said Cauceglia, “and the next step is North America.