The relationship between Sukhoi Superjet and launch customer Armavia continues to unravel, as new reports indicate the Armenian flag carrier has returned its only delivered SSJ100 jet.
Armavia's enthusiasm for the Superjet has waned ever since it took delivery. That much was apparent last November. Armavia had operated the 94-seater for seven months, and Sukhoi hosted a joint press conference. The intent of such events is for both parties to exchange warm platitudes, and smile for the cameras. Armavia could not quite follow the script. Aeroflot had already complained about air conditioning malfunctions and false alarms on the health monitoring system. Armavia said the Superjet needed to be "optimised" before it could meet its potential. Armavia was expected to take its second aircraft in April, but the jet is still sitting on Sukhoi's ramp.
Sukhoi isn't exactly on the best of terms with its launch customer either. Armavia has been accused by Russian authorities of running up unpaid debts, with Moscow's Vnukovo airport reportedly banning refueling services and civil aviation agency Rosaviatsia suspending Armavia's rights to enter the airspace for 10 days in March.
But the Superjet programme can ill-afford more bad press. Mechanical error has been ruled out as a cause of the 9 May crash of a demonstration flight in Indonesia. But Sukhoi's plans for mass production have proved wildly optimistic. Six Superjets were delivered to two customers last year, nine less than planned. Twenty-three SSJ100s are supposed to be delivered this year, but so far only four have been handed over to one customer -- Russian flag carrier Aeroflot. Last week, Flightglobal staff writer Kristin Majcher reported that delivery to North America launch customer Interjet will be delayed five months to March. Interjet blamed the delay on its own training pipeline, but Sukhoi's ability to deliver the aircraft on time remains the biggest question about the programme.