Ilyushin Finance is in discussions with Western engine manufacturers about fitting new powerplants to the Antonov An-148 regional jet, says the leasing company's director-general.
Alexander Rubtsov says that while the An-148 is a good aircraft, he fears that certificating the current Motor Sich D-436-148 engine to European standards could be a lengthy process. "It's good and the fuel efficiency is very reasonable, but nevertheless it will take quite a bit of time and energy to certify it," he says.
As a result, "we're now in discussions with several manufacturers. At the moment we're in the early stage of negotiations and technical assessments".
While Rubtsov does not mention names, Western engines previously suggested for the An-148 have included the General Electric CF-34 and Rolls-Royce BR700. A Western engine could substantially widen the An-148's potential market, he says.
Rubtsov has also defended the aircraft, following apparent criticism by its lead Russian customer. Sergei Belov, general director of Rossiya, was quoted during a late May technical conference as saying the new 68-seat Antonov was expensive to operate, required more support from the manufacturer and needed to fly 10-12h daily to be profitable.
Rubtsov says that Belov's comments were taken out of context and leaked to Flight International by officials from Sukhoi, producer of the rival Superjet regional airliner.
In terms of costs, "he was comparing it with a 15-year-old Boeing 737; of course the lease cost of a 737-500 is slightly less than leasing a new aircraft".
Comparing the costs of the larger 737 with an An-148 is also unfair as costs spread across a smaller number of seats will always be higher, he says. Also, flying an airliner for 10-12h daily is "absolutely normal".
One problem that does affect the An-148, admits Rubtsov, is a shortage of trained crews. At the time of writing, there were just two crews available per aircraft, which was affecting the number of hours the new type could fly. He also accepts that better support is required, particularly in the rapid delivery of spare parts and in the reaction time of the design bureau to fix teething problems.
However, compared with the introduction of previous Russian airliners, such as the Tupolev Tu-204 and Ilyushin Il-96, the An-148's service entry has been noticeably better, with no major problems, he says.
To improve the situation, the company's after-sales support arm, IFC Technik, is extending its store of spares and technical consultants that have previously supported the Il-96 and Tu-204 to cover the An-148.
"We're now investing $20 million in a training centre for the An-148, including flight simulators that will be ready by the end of this year."
The other major spares problem that has plagued Russian and Soviet-era airliners in the past has been the difficulty of negotiating the country's customs and strict export control system.
This could take four months, admits Rubtsov. In the past year, however, government support for a new system has seen the time required for customs clearance of spare parts shrink from a month to just 4h, he says.
Ilyushin Finance's role is to help its major shareholder, United Aircraft, market its aircraft. However, Rubtsov holds out the possibility that his company could lease Western airliners in the future.
"Our ambition is to become a global player, while maintaining our key competence in dealing primarily in Russian and Ukrainian aircraft. We want to become one of the top 20 players in our sector. Our strategy is to make our product more global and more attractive to all clients, not just our traditional ones."