Following a series of consultations with authorities, suppliers, and customers, Sukhoi Civil Aircraft (SCAC) and its patron United Aircraft Corporation (UAC) have begun design work on a completely indigenous version of the Sukhoi Superjet regional jet. The companies have undertaken the development within the framework of a broader import substitution program ordered by the Kremlin.
Although SCAC has yet to encounter sanctions-related prohibitions against receiving components made in the U.S. and EU, the tightening Western sanctions on Russia could one day lead to disruption of the established international cooperation on the project. Western content now accounts for between 55 percent and 60 percent of an SSJ100’s unit cost.
So far, the Superjet program has proceeded uninterrupted despite the chill in the relations between Moscow and the West, which started with the civil war in Ukraine in late 2013 and further worsened with the annexation of Crimea in March 2014. Long-term agreements signed before the events remained in force, providing the manufacturer with an unbroken supply chain.
The first serious test the program failed to pass involved the intended shipment of some 40 aircraft to Iranian airlines. At the 2017 Eurasia Airshow in Antalya, Turkey, SCAC signed letters of intent with Iran Airtours and Iran Asman airlines calling for deliveries from 2020 to 2023. At the time SCAC believed that by removing U.S. parts from the factory-standard SSJ100 and replacing them with Russian or European substitutes would remove the aircraft from the regulatory scope of the U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). In particular, SCAC reported plans to replace the airplane’s U.S.-made inertial navigation, auxiliary power unit, and cabin interior.
Over the course of the summer, a number of SCAC’s European partners informed the manufacturer that they will not risk losing U.S. market as a result of the White House’s possible retaliation for their non-compliance with President Donald Trump’s new policy toward Tehran.
Having reconsidered the situation, Moscow has decided to proceed with the indigenization of the Superjet to a greater extent than initially planned. After 2021, when SCAC introduces a version of the airplane without U.S. parts known as the SSJ100R, the companyplans to pursue a version devoid of all Western components, according to sources within UAC.
The Thales-integrated avionics package would give way to one from local manufacturer KRET. The airplane’s PowerJet SaM.146 engines would be replaced by the Aviadvigatel PD-9, effectively a scaled version of the PD-14 developed for the Irkut MC-21 narrowbody jetliner. Apart from indigenization, this, coupled with a new composite wing, would reduce fuel burn by between 5 percent and 8 percent.
Nevertheless, creation of a completely indigenous Superjet represents a challenge, given the fact that the majority of the airplane’s onboard systems come from the West. In theory, SCAC could consider Chinese parts, but the People’s Republic produces few appropriate for installation in the Superjet.
The SSJ100 first flew in 2008. Since entering commercial service in 2011, the type has logged more than 300,000 revenue flights lasting 460 hours. As of August 2016, 133 aircraft were in operation with eight airlines, as well as five governmental and business aviation organizations.
Most recently, Aeroflot and UAC signed a preliminary agreement calling for the delivery of 100 Superjets from 2019 to 2026. The September 10 announcement made no mention of whether any of the deliveries would involve the SSJ100R or an all-Russian-content Superjet.