Russian Minister Sees Larger Market for SSJ100

 - July 26, 2019, 9:47 AM
The SSJ100 has had some success as an airliner and even as a VIP transport, but trade restrictions are holding it back. (Photo: Vladimir Karnozov)

Denis Manturov, Russia's minister for industry and trade, said he wants Sukhoi Civil Aircraft Company (SCAC) to assemble and sell “at least two hundred more” Superjet SSJ100s. “For me, the Superjet program is important not for quantities, but that it gave us a bank of reliable and competitive solutions in science and technology. Today, it enables us to move forward towards the MC-21, the Sino-Russian widebody," Manturov said in a recent interview.

In the transcript of the interview published by the ministry, Manturov insisted that the May 5 SSJ100 crash-landing and subsequent fire—Aeroflot Flight 1492—did not alienate the carrier and other customers from the Superjet. Local and foreign customers still need the SSJ100, he said, and “have the requirement and the will to acquire these airplanes.” 

However, the airliner's high dependence on western vendors and technologies does not permit SCAC to sell the SSJ100 to “pariah states” without prior approval from the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control. Even though the level of local supply for the SSJ100 recently increased from 30 to 40 percent, this is not sufficient to sell the airplane to Iranian airlines, despite their requirement for 100 aircraft of that size.

On the technology front, the SSJ100 project has enabled local industry to master advanced solutions that are now being applied to the MC-21. “Today’s level of our competence is high enough for the local industry to succeed with the MC-21,” Manturov said. To put in that context, the Kremlin’s decision at the turn of the century to ditch the Tupolev Tu-334 in favor of the SSJ100 appears justified. He described the Tu-334 effort as “leading to a cul-de-sac” in terms of industry development, whereas the SSJ100 has led the Russian industry to new capabilities and into an international cooperation effort. At the same time, he acknowledged that should Moscow have opted for the Tu-334, it would have now been able to sell that airplane without the restrictions that face the Superjet program.

Manturov said the Superjet program is enjoying success in the market for VIP conversions, such that this segment generates sales comparable to that of passenger SSJ100s. He acknowledged that an early expectation for annual sales of 50 SSJ100s did not materialize and the target figure has been reduced to 25 to 30 per year. The market niche for 100-seat airliners is relatively narrow, he explained.

One step up the ladder, the MC-21 falls into the narrowbody category of commercial jets, and so this product should not face the lack of demand in the 100-seat market. Whatever pressure the U.S., and certain western states dependent on Washington, would apply on Moscow, “I am confident that we will succeed with the MC-21 program," Manturov said, "even if they close the tap completely.” With an engine change, replacing the Pratt & Whitney engine with the locally developed PD-14, the level of localization for the MC-21 rises by 20 percent to 70 percent.

The minister blamed "dark forces" for trying to slow down this program, because “the MC-21 is a direct competitor to Boeing [the 737 Max], this airplane is in their niche.” He characterized the western sanctions and restrictions imposed on Aerocomposite and other Russian manufacturers specializing in composite technology as tools of unhealthy competition. Fortunately, in 2008 Moscow decided to fund the creation of indigenous manufacturing capacity and technologies, and this decision is paying off. This also applies to critical technologies in other spheres, “in which we must not depend on anybody,” he said. In the past year alone, Russia spent 600 billion roubles ($9.5 billion) on various import substitution programs, of which 80 percent are private investments.

Touching on the "over-globalization” issue, Manturov said this is tricky and sometimes leads to traps, and thus world-leading nations should try to keep key technologies for themselves and out of the reach of foreign trade restrictions. This is not necessary in industries with high competition between manufacturers in different countries. “Should the Americans not be able to deliver something, we can go elsewhere. For instance, to East Asia, where local manufacturers offer products of very high quality.”