Sukhoi’s Russian Regional Jet is looking much more interesting

Like most people, for a long time I was fairly sceptical about the Russian Regional Jet (RRJ) programme that Sukhoi has been working on – but I think a lot of us are going to be changing our minds.

Today a series of inter-governmental meetings between Italy and Russia ended with a signed deal for Alenia to take a 25%+one share stake in Sukhoi Civil Aircraft, which is more or less synonymous with the programme. The deal was held up by the Italian election and it’s a sign of Italy’s seriousness about the project that it has survived the transition from the Berlusconi to Prodi administrations.

Already the aircraft’s suppliers read like a role-call of French industry, and of course the brand new engines are being co-developed by NPO Saturn of Russia and Snecma of France.

Readers of a certain age will recall that Alenia and Aerospatiale-folded-into-EADS are the joint owners of turboprop aircraft venture ATR which failed in its attempts some years ago to come up with a viable regional jet of its own. A lot has happened in the RJ world since then – particularly BAE Systems’ failure to build on the 146-RJ100 line, and Bombardier’s difficulties in carving out its optimum role in the transformed market.

Embraer has moved with difficulty into China, but Russia, where the need is almost as great, has been left behind – until now.

I’ve recently spoken only briefly to Sukhoi folks about the programme, but I learned that the 60-seat version is now on-hold and all the effort is going into the 100-seater (95-108 in fact).

They made some extravagant claims about the type’s predicted operating advantages over Embraer and Bombardier which I’ll believe when I see, but it is clear that they are having serious conversations with airlines outside Russia – Vietnam Airlines being a serious prospect.

That’s important because Sukhoi has realised that after Aeroflot and perhaps Sibir/S7 Airlines, there are precious few realistic Russian customers in the short term. In the long term it’s a very different picture, but of course they’ve got to get the thing up and running.

One to watch I think.

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