At JetExpo, Western manufacturers optimistic about Russian market

 - September 28, 2010, 11:10 AM

Moscow’s JetExpo 2010 show last month provided evidence of strengthening demand for business aviation in the upper reaches of the Russian market. However, it is demand from the Russian government itself, rather than private companies or individuals, that seems to be leading this trend.

JetExpo itself has seen a marked decline in terms of exhibitor numbers over the past few years, falling from 91 in 2008 to 58 this year. The show is split between indoor exhibits at the Russian capital’s Crocus Expo center and a static display at Vnukovo Airport.

On the eve of the September 15 to 17 show, the Russian government’s Special Air Detachment took delivery of a new Dassault Falcon 7X (the Russian government’s first imported aircraft), and the Kremlin’s flight department is due to receive a second example. In view of unpopular import tax barriers to foreign-made aircraft, this could be a significant move. For Dassault, the delivery marks its second major breakthrough into the Russian market, since it sold five Falcon 900Bs to energy group Gazprom in 1993.

A week before JetExpo 2010, the 7X carried Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to Voronezh to visit the VASO aircraft factory, where the sixth example of the new 68-seat Antonov An-148 regional airliner is being prepared to enter service with state-owned carrier GTK Rossiya. In fact, the Special Air Detachment is part of GTK Rossiya and is also set to take delivery of two An-148-100s to be configured for carrying government officials and other members of the Russian president’s entourage.

While in Voronezh, President Medvedev announced that the government will release the purse strings to allow GTK Rossiya to invest in new Tupolev Tu-204-300 and Ilyushin Il-96-300 airliners. This might be seen as something of a concession for the Russian aircraft manufacturing industry following Medvedev’s recent approval for the purchase of an Airbus Corporate Jetliner for the head-of-state fleet.

Former President Vladimir Putin always insisted on a buy-Russian policy. But, in addition to the Falcons, Medvedev has already approved a deal to buy AgustaWestland AW139 helicopters (albeit to be assembled in Russia through a joint venture of the Italian-UK airframer with the Russian Helicopters group), rather than renew the fleet with Kamov Ka-32A/Ps and Mil Mi-17s.

At the JetExpo show, Airbus, which itself has not publicly confirmed the Russian government order it holds, acknowledged that it is set to make ACJ deliveries to Russia this year. The European airframer is set to produce 16 examples of the ACJ series this year, two more than last year. It has sold a total of 160 private examples of its airliners, with about 100 being ACJs derived from the A320 single-aisle airliners and the rest a mix of widebody A330s, A340s and A380s. About one third of these sales have been made to governments, including those of Azerbaijan and the Ukraine. Also in the Commonwealth of Independent States, Armenian operator ArmAvia has an ACJ.

Meanwhile, Gulfstream president Joe Lombardo confirmed that the first of the new G650 large-cabin business jets to be delivered to Russia will arrive in late 2013. He confirmed that Russian businessmen have ordered several G650s and declared, “We are bullish about the Russian market.”

Earlier this year, Hawker Beechcraft made its first Russian delivery of a Hawker 4000. In July it delivered its first King Air 350 twin turboprop in the country to Aviation and Applied Ecology and it is now seeking Russian certification for the new 350i.

Pilatus also remains optimistic about prospects in Russia, despite the collapse of its local distributor, Air Alpha Aircraft Services. The Swiss manufacturer reported that about 10 PC-12s are flying in Russia today.

Piaggio Aero displayed an Avanti II, for which it is now seeking Russian certification. It aims to start making deliveries to the country in April or May next year.

The Italian airframer also announced the appointment of Aviacharter as a new local sales and marketing partner. The company is set to become the first Avanti operator in Russia, having signed a letter of intent to buy two of the twin turboprops, once local certification is completed. Aviacharter’s Avanti sales director, Oleg Yastrebov, said that the aircraft has great potential for corporate, executive, emergency and special-mission roles in Russia and the CIS.

Eurocopter announced the delivery of the first of eight EC135 T2i helicopters to Gazprom’s flight department, Gazpromavia. The deal is the work of Eurocopter Vostok, the manufacturer’s Russian sales and customer support subsidiary. The T2i model features a Russian avionics suite from St. Petersburg-based Transas Aviation. In August, Eurocopter sold an EC155B1 to Russian leasing group Zest, which has previously imported a number of EC145s and AS335Ns.