Superjet support network ready for its first test

 - November 30, 2010, 7:18 AM

It certainly won’t send an aviation enthusiast’s heart racing like the promise of nimble flying characteristics or technical wizardry in the cockpit, but how an OEM supports its product after the sale perhaps means as much to an airline as any performance specification one might care to name. So while at the outset of the Superjet 100’s development sentiment varied about the ability of Sukhoi Civil Aircraft (SCAC) to produce a competitive regional jet, few would argue that building the capacity to support the product to Western standards ranked as one of the project’s most daunting challenges.

The job of answering that challenge has fallen on Superjet International, the joint venture established in July 2007 by Italy’s Alenia and SCAC specifically to serve the product-support needs of the SSJ customer base. Two-and-a-half years later, Russia’s Aeroflot and Armenia’s Armavia stand to become the first to test Superjet International’s readiness, as the airlines prepare to take delivery of the first two production-standard SSJ100s this month–S/N numbers 95008 and 95007, respectively.  

“The product speaks for itself,” said Superjet International CEO Alessandro Franzoni. “There is a quite interesting blend of Russian know-how on aerodynamics and structural design and Western know-how on avionics and flight control. We have put the best technology available today in every system of the aircraft. So the product is there. But that is not enough. Customer support will be key...We have everything in place–the people, skills, procedures, the warehouses, everything. Now we’re looking forward to the first revenue flight to show customers what we can do.”

Now employing some 165 people at its temporary headquarters in Venice and another 35 or so at its Moscow branch, Superjet International maintains a sales territory that covers most of Europe, the Americas, Africa, Oceana and Japan, but its support network spans the globe.

The company has gotten a head start on maintenance operations with certification to work on the Airbus A320 series. “That was a strategy we [implemented] at the very beginning,” said Franzoni. “We are a start-up. Either we waited for our type to be certified and then start the process to certify our organization, or we prepared in advance, but we have to use an existing type of aircraft on which to exercise ourselves and obtain all the relevant certification from authorities.”

Franzoni said Superjet International chose the A320 primarily due to the large number of airplanes in service. Second, he said, the A320’s systems configuration closely resembles that of the SSJ100, making training more relevant for Superjet mechanics. Although it now holds certification for A320 work in Venice and in Moscow and it performs some light maintenance for Aeroflot and Alitalia, Superjet International does not plan to make third-party work part of its core business. “It’s just to maintain our certification,” said Franzoni.

Although it will “definitely” maintain MRO capabilities in Venice, Superjet International decided early on that it wanted to limit its direct involvement in that part of the business. It therefore has partnered with 12 MRO companies to establish a presence in almost 20 locations worldwide, forming a network that covers every region where Superjet and SCAC market the aircraft.

Meanwhile, ­Superjet International’s newly certified training organization ­consists of centers in Venice and at the Zhukovsky air base in Moscow that ­follow an identical syllabus and employ common procedures and equipment. Franzoni said he expects the first pilots to begin training for type ratings “in a matter of weeks,” following what he described as some preliminary familiarization courses Superjet International held earlier this year in Venice.

Franzoni explained that the company would install identical Level 2 flight training devices (FTDs) within a few weeks in Moscow and Venice, then the first of a pair of Thales-built full flight simulators by the middle of next year in Moscow. In Venice, the company has already installed a cabin emergency evacuation trainer (CEET) for flight attendants and it plans “soon” to deliver a second device, built by the UK’s EDM, to Moscow.   

Now located in a rented hangar, the Venice training center will eventually move to a new building under construction at Venice Marco Polo Airport, also the planned site of Superjet International’s new headquarters. Franzoni said he expects to start moving the company’s new headquarters, now located in temporary facilities some three miles away from the airport, in early 2012.   

In Russia, Superjet International still occupies temporary offices near Sukhoi’s design bureau in downtown Moscow, but plans call for a move to permanent accommodations at Zhukovsky once development of the SSJ100-95 comes to a close.  

Superjet International settled plans for spare parts supply in March this year, when it signed a contract with Lufthansa Technik Logistik to co-locate inventory at the German company’s automated warehouse in Frankfurt. Now integrated with Superjet International’s information technology infrastructure and Web portal, the Frankfurt warehouse serves as the SSJ100’s central parts depot. Another warehouse at Moscow Sheremetyevo Airport supplies Aeroflot and other customers in the area.

In the Americas, Superjet International considers LTL’s warehouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., as a likely candidate for future capacity.

Although no North American airlines have yet committed to the SSJ100, Superjet International considers a recent MOU signed by Novato, Calif.-based Willis Lease Finance as something of a coup. The contract, which covers an order for six airplanes and options on another four, not only signaled Willis’s intention to diversify into the regional jet business, it marked the first commitments for the SSJ100 involving a U.S.-based company.  

“The order is significant for us, but I think it goes much beyond the number of aircraft,” said Franzoni.

Together, Superjet International and SCAC have collected firm orders for
152 SSJ100s.

First Production Superjet Flies

Sukhoi Civil Aircraft (SCAC) flew the first production Sukhoi Superjet 100–
S/N 95007–for the first time on November 4 from the site of the company’s final
assembly plant in Komsomolsk upon Amur, Russia. The aircraft, scheduled for delivery to launch customer Armavia this month, flew for three hours.  

“The premier flight of the first serial aircraft Sukhoi Superjet 100 is an important milestone of the program,” said SCAC president Vladimir Prisyazhnyuk. “We are now really starting the ramp-up of production. There are 17 serial aircraft in production, five of which are at the final assembly shop.”

Plans call for S/N 95007 to fly to Moscow for operational route-proving tests after a series of factory checks.

SCAC reported on November 8 that it had accomplished all “major” certification tasks with the four SSJ100 flying prototypes, which by then had accumulated 2,245 flight hours during 948 test missions. On October 28 the second flying prototype, S/N 95003, returned from crosswind testing
in Iceland.

The same aircraft has also successfully performed a series of tests for Category II landing capability, which would qualify it for type certification, said Sukhoi. By early last month the company was preparing for Category IIIA testing, it added.
Meanwhile, at the Zhukovsky Flight Test Center in Moscow, SCAC engineers successfully completed airstair and cargo compartment equipment testing and the program had reached the final stages of testing for avionics, electromagnetic compatibility and high intensity radiated field exposure.