Blue Panorama to confirm SSJ order next month

 - August 29, 2011, 7:40 AM

The new Western European launch customer for the Sukhoi SuperJet 100, Italy’s Blue Panorama Airlines, expects to convert its Paris Air Show memorandum of understanding covering 12 SSJ100s into an order for eight aircraft (plus options on four) next month, once it has reached an agreement with SaM146 engine supplier PowerJet, a Snecma/NPO Saturn Franco-Russian joint venture.

Blue Panorama chairman Franco Pecci hopes the initial eight machines will arrive before 2015; the remaining options should become firm orders in mid-2013, ahead of delivery of all four during 2015. He confirmed that export credit agencies in France, Italy and Russia will finance the aircraft, and that OEM support contracts will cover the airframes and engines. Plans call for the airplanes to come configured in a 108-passenger, single-class Aeritalia/Pininfarina “Italian Style” cabin-interior layout.

Pecci told AIN that as the Western European launch customer BPA had received assistance in its acquisition of the aircraft. “Obviously, [given] the strategic interest of Italy and Russia in the success of [the SuperJet 100 in the region], we rely on concessions for the acquisition, training, after-sales [service] and of course the launch of this aircraft.”

Flight Tests Under Way

Meanwhile, SSJ100 flight testing continues as production begins and the Russian manufacturer prepares to ship more aircraft following two initial deliveries to Armavia and Aeroflot in the second quarter.

Immediately after June’s Paris Air Show, the SSJ100 visited Toulouse, France, where it was flown by two EASA certification pilots, according to Carlo Logli, chief executive of SuperJet International (SJI). In early August the fifth SuperJet prototype went to Dubai for high-temperature trials to demonstrate the aircraft could operate in climates as hot as 50 degrees C (104 degrees F). Later, SSJ100 prototype number 4 was scheduled to fly to Mexico for three to four weeks’ high-altitude tests.

Logli said the flight-test aircraft will remain hard at work during the next 12 months. The manufacturer expects to retain one demonstrator, while the others likely undergo refurbishment or customer delivery. SSJ static tests have ended, while “on-schedule” fatigue testing will continue for “another couple of years.”

Sukhoi Civil Aircraft has built eight SSJs, including four flight-test machines, two prototypes for static and fatigue tests, and the two delivered examples. Last month six aircraft were undergoing final assembly in Komsomolsk-on-Amur, 23 stood in various stages of completion and the manufacturer had placed parts-manufacture orders for many more, according to SJI, a marketing, sales, customization and delivery joint venture between Sukhoi and Alenia Aeronautica responsible for Africa, the Americas, Europe, Japan and Oceania. It also looks after training, worldwide after-sales support, and design and development of VIP and cargo variants.

Sukhoi expects to deliver “around ten” SSJs this year to Armavia and Aeroflot, which Logli said had been “pushing” for more aircraft. Production rates should each “at least” 2.5 a month next year, advancing to as many as 60 a year beginning in 2014.

Plans call for Mexican operator Interjet to receive its first of 15 aircraft in the second half of next year, while Blue Panorama will likely receive the first of at least eight SSJs early in 2013, said Logli. Globally, he said he expects to see 30 to 35 aircraft delivered during the course of next year.

Before August’s Maks airshow in Moscow, Sukhoi held a 168-strong firm order backlog for SSJ100s, of which SJI generated 71. The order book includes 20 aircraft for an undisclosed customer, announced three years ago and perhaps finally revealed at the Maks show. As of last month the total did not includerequirements for Indonesia’s Sky Aviation (for 12) and Blue Panorama, both of which remained subject to final confirmation. SJI did not identify aircraft covered by options.

Logli confirmed Sukhoi continues to consider how to reduce aircraft weight by some 1,000 kg (2,205 pounds) to meet reported requests from Aeroflot. Sukhoi plans to incorporate weight-saving modifications over the next 18 months. Logli suggested that cabin furnishing, offered competitively by an Aeritalia/Pininfarina partnership and by BE Aerospace, could allow weight savings of some 200- to 300 kg (441 to 662 pounds). Asked about Interjet’s request for additional range (beyond the standard 1,645 nm), he said the Mexican airline’s contract calls for long-range variants offering a “guaranteed 2,450 nm.”

Following Russian airworthiness approval for delivery to the first domestic customers, SJI expects European Aviation Safety Agency clearance by the end of this year “at the latest.” (The Interjet airplanes must meet EASA certification standards adopted by Mexico.)

SJI has begun to provide training through its facilities in Venice and Moscow, which offer non-recurrent and recurrent training for flight and cabin crews, and maintenance and other ground personnel. By early August, SJI conducted initial courses for 48 pilots, 28 cabin attendants and 69 maintenance technicians from Aeroflot and Armavia.