While Sukhoi Civil Aircraft (SCAC) considers the SSJ100 regional jet one of the world’s most capable and advanced regional jets on the market, the Russian manufacturer recently has committed to showing that it can support its product to an equally worthy standard. Most recent plans call for the April 1 opening of a modern parts distribution center at Moscow Sheremetyevo Airport as part of an exercise to move warehouse capacity from two locations in the city, allowing for faster response times and better overall service. Speaking with AIN from his Moscow offices Tuesday, SCAC president Kamil Gaynutdinov explained that the project reflects a broader effort to erase some of the perceptions of the SSJ100 as simply a niche Russian product. Nevertheless, he would not claim that SCAC has by any measure reached its potential in terms of support capabilities.
“I’m not satisfied personally because I expect much more,” he acknowledged. “I’m used to raising the bar continuously and we are pouring a humongous amount of investment into development of the spares distribution network...And we are building a great digital service package for our customers—something they’ve come to expect from Boeing and Airbus airplanes.”
Named president of SCAC last September, Gaynutdinov last served as director of sales and business development for Boeing in Seattle. With his 11 years of experience at the U.S. company, Gaynutdinov brings something of a fresh, perhaps more outward-looking perspective to SCAC, more in line with its aspirations to be counted as a true global player in the civil aircraft industry.
“It’s a pretty new and big decision for a Russian company to decide to hire a former Boeing guy,” he said. “That’s pretty telling relative to the intentions and expectations to take this business global and win a much larger market share.”
Although the SSJ100 now flies with two Western airlines, namely Mexico’s Interjet and, more recently, Ireland’s CityJet, Gaynutdinov sees far more opportunities in places such as Brazil, for example, where he said a group of investors has expressed serious interest in the airplane. But he said the biggest prize perhaps resides in the U.S., a market SCAC has failed to penetrate despite years of intense marketing effort. But now, an opening might have presented itself as one of the SSJ100’s direct competitors—the Mitsubishi MRJ—suffers through yet another two-year delay, moving back expected certification to mid-2020. Gaynutdinov said he has approached all of Mitsubishi’s customers, which include SkyWest Airlines and Trans States Airlines of the U.S., in an effort to convince them to consider the SSJ100 as an alternative to the Japanese regional jet. “We’re a business, we definitely need to go after every opportunity as our competitors would,” he stressed.
Of course, SCAC’s competitors didn’t likely lament the recent grounding of several SSJ100s after routine inspections discovered a tail stabilizer defect in late January. While Aeroflot, the SSJ100’s largest operator, needed to address the problem on six machines, Interjet of Mexico had to temporarily ground half of its 22-strong SSJ100 fleet until it completed checks and defect-rectification work. Dublin-based CityJet, which now flies three SSJ100s, continued flying its airplanes as usual after performing requisite checks on December 24 and finding no anomalies. Gaynutdinov said SCAC would certainly finish all the work needed to return the remaining affected airplanes to service by the end of this month.
Rather than staining the airplane’s reputation, the unfortunate episode in a way helped prove SCAC’s ability to address challenges not uncommon in a relatively young program quickly and effectively, he suggested.
“I personally received very impressive comments about how quickly our guys reacted,” said Gaynutdinov. “I’ve worked with Boeing and I know how complicated these things can be. These things can happen and the airplane OEM’s job is to quickly react to it to the satisfaction of its customers. In this case I’m very proud with how our team has reacted and definitely the feedback from the airline executives speaks to that.”
Gaynutdinov also credited program partner Superjet International, the joint venture between Italy’s Leonardo and Sukhoi that provides SSJ100 sales and support and performs cabin completions, for its role in the quick resolution to the problem. Although Leonardo recently announced it would sell its remaining 5 percent stake in SCAC, the Superjet relationship remains strong, he said. However, he alluded to some changes coming in the near future.
“We’re streamlining operations between the two companies,” he noted. “We still have a great future. Our Italian partner will remain a great partner of ours, and there is even a potential for some development of certain capabilities on the engineering side.”