Superjet Buy a ‘Calculated Risk,’ Says Interjet CEO

 - August 6, 2012, 1:30 PM
Mexico's Interjet converted options on five more SSJ100s to firm status last month, raising its firm order count to 20.

Residual value guarantees, superior hot-and-high capabilities and “outstanding” launch customer incentives all contributed to a decision by Mexico’s second-largest airline to take a “calculated risk” on the Sukhoi Superjet 100, Interjet CEO Jose Luis Garza told AIN during a visit to New York last week.

In town to celebrate the August 2 launch of A320 service between Mexico City and New York JFK International Airport, Garza conceded that a “very bad image” the Russian aircraft industry continues to combat has hampered sales of the airplane in the West.

Neverthless, he expressed total confidence in the ability of Sukhoi and its Western partner—Italy’s Superjet International—to deliver on its commitments. In fact, said Garza, Sukhoi has already built four Interjet-bound airframes, the first of which goes to Italy’s Alenia this month for the start of interior installation.

“There are prejudices,” conceded Garza. “Remember, probably ten years from today, talking of Brazilian-made aircraft was [considered] crazy. But those products have been established very well in the marketplace. [The SSJ100] is superior to the Embraer E190…Our concern was more in the ability of the manufacturer to support the long-term success of the aircraft because of residual values.”

Now holding a firm order for 20 of the new regional jets, Interjet just last month converted options on five to firm status, effectively underscoring its own commitment to the project. Originally calling for first delivery in November, schedules now reflect more realistic expectations, in line with the time needed for certification of the interior installation and flight simulator by mid-January at Alenia facilities in Venice, explained Garza.

Interjet now expects delivery of its first 93-seat SSJ100 in mid-March, followed by one new airplane a month until the end of 2014. The airline plans to use in-house A320 pilots to captain the Superjets and hire first officers from outside the company. Garza said he sees no shortage of pilots, particularly following the demise of Mexicana in 2010. 

Interjet has identified some 80 city pairs suitable for the Superjet, many formerly served by Mexicana Click Fokker 100s and Boeing 717s and all within the 925-nm range the SSJ100 can manage from the hot-and-high international airport outside Toluca, Mexico (8,466 ft msl). Because the range of the standard Superjet is limited to approximately 750 nm from Toluca, Sukhoi offered an extended-range variant using high-speed landing procedures and a modified landing-gear door designed to reduce drag.

In addition to Toluca, Interjet will fly the airplanes from Mexico City, Guadalajara and Monterrey, as well as undecided cities in the northwest and southwest of the country, said Garza. “This is going to be a workhorse for us, because utilization is going to be intense in Mexico—more than five cycles per aircraft per day,” he emphasized. 

After Interjet found that the CRJ900 couldn’t meet its hot-and-high requirements, the competition for the Interjet order in effect became a two-way contest between the Superjet and the Embraer E190.

“We tried the CRJ900 on the Toluca environment,” said Garza. “They really couldn’t support departing from Toluca without imposing important restrictions. So we eliminated the CRJ900. We didn’t really test the Embraer E190, but when we arrived at the point of commercial negotiations, well, the pricing of that aircraft was outrageous.

“We believe [the E190] is an overpriced aircraft,” Garza concluded.