Dubai Airshow

Reworked UAC Strategy Gives More Work To Local Leasing Companies

 - November 7, 2015, 8:00 AM
The Sukhoi Superjet offers a clean-sheet-of-paper design but incorporates major components like avionics, landing gear, and electrical/hydraulic systems from established companies, including Thales, Messier Dowty, Parker and Hamilton Sundstrand. Manufacturer UAC is actively seeking new markets.

The renewed strategy of United Aircraft Corporation (UAC, Chalet C4, Stand 550) is for civil aviation to represent 50 percent of the corporation’s income. The 100-seat Sukhoi Superjet 100 (SSJ100), an example of which is parked on the static line here in Dubai, remains a core program, soon to be supplemented by the MC-21 next-generation narrowbody.

The MC-21’s maiden flight is planned for 2016 and certification for 2018. The Soviet-era Ilyushin Il-96 widebody and Tupolev Tu-204/214 narrowbody will remain in production until 2023-25, however, with a planned annual output of two-to-three airframes of each type.

In October, UAC’s executive board approved the renewed business plan for the Superjet, calling for 595 SSJ100 sales through 2031 compared with 800, previously. Of the aforementioned 595, 82 would be the Basic model (SSJ100-95B), 331 Long Range (SSJ100-95LR) and 140 would be an enlarged-seating-capacity version (for 110-125 passengers). The remaining 42 are the business jet version.

The document was prepared on an order from President Putin, which he issued in March, when allocating a rescue package of ruble 100 billion for the ailing manufacturer Sukhoi Civil Aircraft (SCAC). The money went into SCAC’s base capital, and reduced SCAC’s debts from ruble 109 billion ($1.7 billion) in early 2015 to ruble 6.9 billion ($0.11 billion) now.

The renewed business plan is “more realistic,” according to the corporation’s president Yuri Slyusar. This year, “from 17 to 20 aircraft” will be produced, compared with 36 in 2014. The reduction is caused by a large number of “white tails” today, out of nearly 100 Superjets assembled, fewer than 60 are placed with airlines, the largest being Aeroflot (30), Interjet (16) and Red Wings (four).

This problem was eased somewhat at MAKS’2015, when UAC and government-controlled GTLK lessor signed the largest Superjet contract so far, for 32 firm orders and 28 options. The Russian government and the nation’s largest banks will support this deal financially, with GTLK placing these aircraft with a handful of local carriers on very attractive terms.

Another cause for the temporary slow-down is the on-going effort to reduce manufacturing costs. Slyusar explained: “We want to somewhat simplify the baseline version to offer to those customers who do not [want a] complex set of onboard systems.”

This is targeted as a $2.6 million cost reduction per airframe, partly through wider use of Russian-made components, and partly from more automation so as to reduce the number of man-hours.

A UAC study found that, to make ends meet, the Superjet’s monthly rental should be $185,000. This led to a target fly-off price of $27-28 million per airframe (compared to $35 million now).

UAC plans to produce 25 Superjets in 2016 and 34 in 2017. Later, the production output will stabilize at 35-40 annually. Slyusar believes UAC is able to balance Superjet sales and manufacturing rates in the next three years, enabling SCAC to start generating operational profit starting in 2017.

Among various projects developed to attract new customers, there is a wet lease program developed by Ilyushin Finance Co. (IFC). Potential customers are given an aircraft on wet lease for six months. This term allows the airline to make sure that the Russian airplane demonstrates its advertised performance.

IFC has placed orders for 28 Superjets and 50 MC-21s and is widely viewed as the preferred lessor to structure deals with Aeroflot for additional Superjets to the Russian flag carrier.

At the Paris Airshow in June, IFC general manager Alexander Roubtsov told journalists that he’d had meetings with five foreign airlines. They were offered Superjets on wet lease for six months, complete with crews and technical assistance from Red Wings. “Few would agree to buy a new type. Our offer enables potential buyers to avoid some risks. The airline, which has tested the type on its routes, is better positioned to make a weighted decision whether to buy some.”

At MAKS’2015 in August, IFC, Red Wings and Sky Angkor Airlines signed an agreement. The Cambodian carrier agreed to take one Superjet on wet lease. After assessment of this aircraft in operation, the airline will decide whether the type meets its requirements.

If this trial ends up with a positive conclusion, Sky Angkor will take a couple of newly built airplanes through an operating lease from IFC. A decision is expected by year-end. If it is in favor of the Superjet, two aircraft will be delivered in 2016. Similar schemes have been discussed with a number of Asian airlines, including those from Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand.

Red Wings is soon to come under control of IFC as a result of the ongoing changes in its shareholding structure. Today, the airline operates four SSJ100-95Bs on operating lease terms. A fifth airframe will join the fleet late this year. In October 2015, the UAC executive board made the decision to hand a 74 percent stake in the airline over to the lessor. When complete, this move will bring Red Wings and IFC even closer.