Bombardier Sees Bright Future for Q400 in Russia

 - August 1, 2012, 12:50 AM
ATRs dominate Russia’s Western turboprop fleet, but Bombardier expects to see big sales of its Q400 if the government opts to relax an import tax on large turboprops.

Russia was a priority for Bombardier long before it dispatched Q400 C-GLKU on a worldwide tour. Now, with issuance of Russian certification of the high-speed turboprop on June 6, Bombardier redoubled its marketing efforts in the promising market, sending the Q400 demonstrator to Moscow, Saratov, Kazan, Tyumen, Yekaterinburg, Kemerovo, Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, Yakutsk, Magadan and Anadyr from May 21 to June 9. Over the next 20 years, the Canadian manufacturer expects Russia to need some 200 large turboprops and, as of now, Bombardier builds the biggest and fastest, albeit also the most expensive.

Russia’s commuter and regional fleet totals 350 airplanes with a capacity of 20 to 59 seats, 130 with 60 to 99 and 340 with 100 to 139. Bombardier predicts that in 2030 the Russian fleet will maintain its numerical strength at 820 units, but the distribution will change to 60, 340 and 420, respectively.

Used Bombardier regional jets have served the Russian market since the Kremlin softened its stance on imports and abolished tariffs on airliners with fewer than 50 seats. According to the Airclaims database, as of December 2011 local airlines operated 44 CRJ100/200s. Bombardier told AIN that as of early June, the size of the Russian CRJ fleet had increased to 80 aircraft.

The Airclaims database listed two Dash 8-200s, two Dash 8-300s and 27 ATR 42/72s. Last year only one more used Dash 8-300 entered Russia, whereas ATR delivered 18 newly built airplanes to Russian carriers: four ATR 72-500s went to Taimyr (Nordstar) and 14 to UTair, the latter aiming to become the largest ATR 72 operator in Europe next year with 37.

If the Kremlin, as expected, removes the current 20-percent import tariff on large turboprops, Bombardier sees “big sales” for the Q400. Russia’s largest aircraft lessor, Ilyushin Finance (IFC), has tentatively indicated its interest in 10 aircraft. Another prospect, Tulpar Air of Kazan, operates three Challenger 300s and a Global Express and seeks Bombardier regional aircraft to replace its Yak-40/42s. Tulpar recently expanded its maintenance division and completions center and won approval for CRJ line and base maintenance. It has now filed for approvals for the Q400. Russia’s largest maintenance specialist–S7 Engineering–has also gained experience with CRJ maintenance.

Bombardier says that in the absence of an import tax, the Q400 can generate profit on most Russian regional routes. It calculates that on the Moscow-Saratov route, airlines can operate profitably selling one-way tickets for $70, provided each airplane logs 2,600 flight hours a year. The calculation apparently accompanied the signing of a preliminary agreement between IFC and Saratov Airlines on a lease for three Q400s.

Compared with outdated Soviet-era and out-of-production Western regional aircraft, the Q400 can hold a 50-percent operating cost advantage, according to some estimates. It can operate in low ambient temperatures, down to -54 degrees C (-65.2 degrees F). Bombardier claims that it offers a 17-percent advantage in speed and 11 percent more seating capacity compared with the ATR 72, for 30 percent higher productivity. Another advantage, particularly for the Russian market, is the Q400’s 14.2-cubic-meter (501.5-cubic-foot) cargo hold, compared with the 10.6-cubic-meter (374.3 cubic foot) compartment in the ATR 72, according to Bombardier.

Dubious competition from Russian manufacturers appears in the An-140-100 turboprop, of which Aviacor produced one in 2009 and one last year. Plans call for all three airplanes scheduled for manufacture this year to go the defense ministry, which took its first in June. Meanwhile, the TAPO plant in Uzbekistan has been producing one Il-114-100 annually for national carrier Uzbekistan Airways. In the future, however, Bombardier and ATR may encounter stronger competition from China, which broke into the CIS market with the delivery of a Xian MA60 to Tajik Air last December. A number of Russian carriers have expressed interest in the Modern Ark family as suitable replacement for the long-serving An-24/26, and have urged the local civil aviation authorities to remove legal obstacles to Chinese products entering Russia.