Kremlin Considers Launching Start-up Airlines To Fly Superjets

 - February 21, 2020, 9:46 AM
An Aeroflot Sukhoi SSJ100 takes off from Moscow Sheremetyevo International Airport. (Photo: SCAC)

Concerned about a lack of commercial interest in the Sukhoi SSJ100 from full-fledged air carriers, the Kremlin has begun looking for ways to place dozens of "white tails" and redundant aircraft with start-up businesses. The proposal calls for the establishment of a so-called Regional Airline—a nationwide operator of indigenous regional- and commuter-class airplanes—and a "Far East Airline” that would serve Eastern Siberia and the Pacific coastline. According to the ministry for industry and trade, each carrier would take up to twenty SSJ100s as a first step.

Moscow also harbors high hopes for Green Africa Airways (GAA), a start-up airline in Nigeria that intends to begin revenue flights this summer. The Kremlin issued approval to state-owned GTLK (Russian acronym for State Transport Lease Corporation) to place six A220-300s—purchased for Red Wings but rejected by the intended operator in favor of the Airbus A320/321ceo—with GAA. Should the respective project take off, investors envision a large LCC serving the whole African continent, and, as the Russians see it, a natural customer for the Superjet.

Initially, GAA signed for 50 Boeing 737 Max jets, but in view of the troubles at Boeing, it has turned its sights toward other manufacturers such as Airbus, with which it inked a preliminary deal at the Singapore Airshow covering 50 A220-300s.

Over the past three years, Sukhoi Civil Aircraft Company (SCAC) managed to win only one big order, covering 100 jets for Aeroflot. Today, the national carrier remains the only commercial airline with a strong commitment to the type. Aeroflot received five aircraft in late 2019 and now operates 54 SSJ100s, as many as the type’s six other Russian operators (Yamal, Azimut, Gazpromavia, Yakutia, IrAero, and Severstal) combined. According to the ministry for industry and trade, this year the carrier will take up to 17 more airplanes.

In 2019, SCAC delivered only eight aircraft. Over the past three years, it completed 75 new airplanes and delivered only 64. Since 2007, the manufacturer assembled 194 airframes, including three for ground testing, of which 142 SCAC and lessors have placed with 20 operators. Only 120 remain active. The vast majority now fly with domestic carriers, after Ireland’s Cityjet returned all airplanes it retained under lease in 2018.

Today, Mexico’s Interjet stands as the only commercial airline operating the type outside of Russia. Out of 22 SSJ100s in the fleet, it now operates only four or five aircraft due to several financial and technical reasons. The manufacturer and financial institutions that helped structure the Mexican deal have been working hard to keep the SSJ100 operational with Interjet, even on a limited basis.