Superjet Pushes for More Asia Pacific Sales

 - February 9, 2014, 7:20 PM
Sukhoi Superjet 100s have been in service for nearly three years with Aeroflot and currently they are joining Asia Pacific fleets such as Laos’s Lao Central Airlines.

For more than a year now the Sukhoi Superjet 100 has been carrying passengers with Indonesia’s PT Sky Aviation and Laos’ Lao Central Airlines. In December the Indonesians accepted their third aircraft and seem happy with the Russian 100-seat twinjet. The second airplane for Lao was ready by mid-summer and even made a public appearance at the MAKS 2013 air show in Moscow, but the aircraft has not yet been delivered to the customer. The third Superjet destined for Laos appeared at a December press event, bearing a Laotian registration but a Russian flag, with tail and fuselage painted all white. Industry insiders told AIN that the Russians are not happy with Lao for not paying rentals on time. Another customer–of Russian origin–is rumored to have been found for the two undelivered Laotian airframes.

Although this issue is not the first between Sukhoi and its airline customers, other deliveries have gone better for the manufacturer. Initial Superjet operations with Mexico’s Interjet demonstrate very high (“out of the box”) utilization rates averaging 300 hours a month per airframe, an excellent figure for a brand-new regional jet flying relatively short routes. The monthly record is still with Aeroflot, though, at 328 hours for RA98010 in October 2012. During 2013 there were three instances in which an individual Aeroflot airframe recorded 300+ hours flying in a month. At the same time, the Russian flag carrier’s fleet average is a mere 146 hours (2011-2013) due to a mix of teething problems and the continuing dispute on the roles to be played by the airline, aircraft manufacturer and service providers in relation to Aeroflot Superjets.

Sukhoi’s biggest achievement has been the production boost from 12 in 2012 to 24 in 2013. The machinists at the manufacturing site in Komsomolsk-on-Amur now seem to be firmly on their way to attaining the planned output of 60 airframes in 2016. This would render Superjet production profitable and help the manufacturer pay off large debts amassed during aircraft development and production setup. According to Sukhoi’s own figures, in 2012 Sukhoi was selling airplanes at $20.5 million whereas manufacturing costs amounted to $28 million per airframe.

Early issues with the PowerJet SaM146 engines, such as surges, in-flight shutdowns and false alarms, have been resolved and the flow of airline complaints has dried up. Manufacturing at France’s Snecma and Russia’s NPO Saturn in the 50/50 PowerJet partnership is now beyond the point when a shortage of engines restricted aircraft output. PowerJet chairman and CEO Claude Poulain assured AIN that design targets for fuel burn, in-service reliability and performance deterioration have been met. The only way in which the SaM146 still needs improvement is weight reduction.

Government Support

The Kremlin has put faith in the Superjet as the project able to restore Russia’s presence in the market for commercial airplanes. It has been providing all sorts of support to Sukhoi. Governmental grants on the aircraft development and design rectification are now supplemented by attractive financial packages from Kremlin-controlled VEB bank to foreign airlines willing to operate Superjets on lease terms. A year ago VEB approved two major financial programs for the Superjet–the first, worth $1 billion–is to help the manufacturer clear outstanding debts. The second is a $2.5 billion credit line for newly built Superjets going to foreign airlines, from which Sky Aviation and Lao have been benefiting.

These and other measures specifically designed for the Superjet do not apply to other domestic aerospace products. During 2013 Superjets were the only Russian-built aircraft going to airline service, while rare Ilyushins (1), Tupolevs (3) and license-built Antonovs (7) went to government only.

Superjets have been in revenue service for three years: Armavia took one and Aeroflot took four aircraft in 2011. The following year Aeroflot took six; Yakutia and Sky Aviation, one each. In 2013 Yakutia acquired its second Superjet, Sky Aviation added two and Gazpromavia accepted the first deliverable Superjet 100-95 in long-range version with a 50-metric-ton gross weight and 4,200-km range. Interjet received four Superjets, which differ from the rest in having the Pininfarina-designed interior installed by the Superjet International (SJI) completions facility near Venice, Italy. The second Superjet, built in 2012 for Armavia but rejected by the intended customer, went to Moscowia. This airline accepted Armavia’s first airplane, delivered in 2011 but returned to the manufacturer in late 2012, and one ex-Aeroflot aircraft.

In the two-and-a-half years since EIS, Aeroflot has performed more than 16,000 revenue flights with the type. During 2013 the Russian flag carrier withdrew six out of 10 Superjets taken in 2011-2012 (with flight time ranging between 2,047 and 3,855 flight hours) on the pretext that their cabins were made to “light” interior standard, while the customer wanted the “full” standard. Sukhoi promised to provide seven “full” aircraft for replacement in 2013 but managed only four, the last one on December 31. Today, Aeroflot operates four “light” and four “full” Superjets. They are demonstrating an average monthly utilization rate of about 200 flight hours per operable airframe–and only four aircraft were typically available for revenue services at a time due to technical and managerial reasons. According to the airlines’ safety report for 2012, 10 Superjets–making up 8 percent of its fleet–were responsible for 40 percent of all technical snags.

Despite these teething problems, the Superjet is steadily making its way. In early 2014 the number of Superjets assembled and flown approached 50, of which 20 were with airlines. The rest is made up by experimental flight vehicles for test purposes, deactivated examples, “green” airframes (interior to be installed) and ex-Aeroflot examples being reworked before placing with some other customers. Thus, Sukhoi has some Superjets available for Asia Pacific customers with attractive customer-finance packages.