Life has been hard in the regional jet business lately. Before 9/11 there was buoyant demand for 50-seaters that offered more passenger comfort than turboprops and also kept crew costs relatively low. But the subsequent era saw high fuel costs start to squeeze out those small jets in favour of 70- and 90-seaters with lower cost per seat mile.
That pressure only heightened, eviscerating the 50-seat market and prompting both market leaders, Bombardier and Embraer, to consider moving up a size category. Bombardier took that plunge with the CSeries airliner project, which has drawn heavy competitive fire from the really big boys, Airbus and Boeing. Embraer sized up its chances and backed away, opting
instead to re-engine its larger regional jets in a bid to keep them competitive by boosting fuel economy. Embraer may even move back into turboprops.
With the established players feeling such a pinch it's hard to get excited about the prospects of newcomers. But while China's Comac ARJ21 and Japan's Mitsubishi MRJ programmes have hit development troubles, Sukhoi's Superjet 100 is in service and winning plaudits from pilots - as well as orders outside of Russia.
Sukhoi from the start built the programme around a global sales campaign and embraced Western partners to fill out Russia's short suits. That was the right decision and it may be poised to bear fruit.
(This first appeared as the second leading article in Flight International, 10 April)