Comment: Super-sized ambition

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It was all champagne and backslapping in Venice last week as Superjet International - the Alenia Aeronautica/Sukhoi joint venture that markets the Russian-built Superjet 100 regional jet to Western customers - celebrated a sale to Mexican low-cost carrier Interjet, which signed a firm order for 15 aircraft, plus five options.

Phrases such as "launch customer in the Americas" and "full of optimism" were bandied about. Alenia Aeronautica chief executive Giuseppe Giordo proclaimed that the Interjet deal would "open other opportunities, not only in the Americas, but in Europe and other Western countries".

Time will tell if he is right. For now, the fighting talk fails to dispel a stark truth. A close inspection of Superjet International's latest orderbook reveals that past "firm" orders from Western customers have been quietly falling by the wayside.

us checkpoint, rex features
 © AGF/Rex Features
US access could remain problematic for Russia

Take, for example, the firm order in 2007 from Alenia's compatriot, ItAli Airlines, for 10 Superjets plus 10 options. The Italian carrier was touted at the time as being Superjet's Western launch customer, but it is nowhere to be seen on the latest list of firm customers. Ditto for Switzerland's Asset Management Advisors, previously down to take five Superjets, but now off the books. And as for Hungarian carrier Malév's letter of intent for up to 30 Superjet 100s, it is "frozen".

Of course, the sales campaign had already suffered the huge faux pas that led Sukhoi to hastily withdraw an annual report that listed a firm order for 20 Superjets from Alitalia. The fictitious deal had, the manufacturer admitted, been reported "erroneously". With Superjet International based in Italy, the national airline's eventual selection of Embraer aircraft for regional fleet renewal sounded an ominous note indeed. Subsequently, heads rolled. Superjet International chief executive Alessandro Franzoni was shunted off to head another Alenia division, replaced by Carlo Logli.

So now it is Logli who is under pressure to secure some well-known Western customers with strong balance sheets - and ensure they remain on the firm orderbooks until the aircraft are delivered. The new chief seems up for the challenge, confidently predicting an order from a European airline by year-end. He also hopes to secure a US airline customer, although he admits this will take a little longer.

That seems likely. But if Logli can convince a US carrier to sign up for a jet built in Russia, the Superjet will have its very own Superman.