IN FOCUS: Reality lags ambition for Russian civil airframers

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Russia's ambitions in the civil aerospace sector are still running far ahead of industrial and market reality.

United Aircraft delivered seven commercial jets last year - five Sukhoi Superjet 100s and a pair of Antonov An-148s - and had aimed to hand over a total of 33 of these two types during 2012 - but the pace of production remains slow.

Aeroflot has been steadily taking delivery of its Superjets, accumulating a total fleet of 10 by September, but plans to hand over launch operator Armavia's second and final Superjet suffered a setback when the two sides became embroiled in a dispute that left both aircraft parked at Moscow's Zhukovsky airfield.

antonov an-148 airteamimages.com

 AirTeamImages

United Aircraft handed over only a pair of Antonov An-148s in 2011

However, the dispute was resolved and on 2 October, Armavia took back its first Superjet 100 "after the solution of the airline's financial issues". The two sides have "agreed the terms" for the first aircraft and have signed a preliminary six-month lease agreement, while "continuing to discuss" the situation with the second aircraft.

Transaero, one of the five Russian airlines that accounts for 60% of the country's passenger traffic, provided a timely confidence boost to the Superjet programme with an order for up to 16 as Sukhoi reeled from the fatal loss of a prototype during an Indonesian demonstration flight in May.

Mexico's Interjet, a key overseas customer, also firmed options on additional Superjets this year.

Sukhoi has also been under pressure regarding funding for production ramp-up, according to an in-depth Russian audit committee analysis, particularly since federal budget provisions cannot be allocated to aircraft programmes post-certification. The audit committee stated that the future of the programme is potentially under threat, although Sukhoi has insisted its finances are being restructured to ensure it has the necessary resources.

Irkut is making progress on development of the twinjet MS-21 family but the modernised Tupolev Tu-204SM remains largely in limbo, with few sales prospects.

ms-21 dataState industrial corporation Rostekhnologii gave the Irkut MS-21 its most high-profile lift this year by confirming its order for 35 of the twinjets - a mix of 18 of the 150-seat -200 and 17 of the 181-seat -300 - for its leasing arm Aviakapital-Servis, from 2022.

The lessor is taking MS-21s fitted with the Aviadvigatel PD-14 engine. Tests on the technology demonstrator were completed in September. Aviadvigatel says operability of components, including those involving specialised technological manufacturing, "was validated", and engine performance "complied with the simulation model".

However, the production schedule for the twinjet family appears more fluid following the disclosure that first flight for the Pratt & Whitney PW1400G-powered version, due to enter service in 2017, had shifted to 2015.

Aeroflot has become a likely initial operator of the type as a result of the Rostekhnologii order and the scaling-down of an early agreement by Malaysian company Crecom Burj, which had originally intended to take 50 of the type.

This has enabled Irkut to revise its delivery plans and offer the aircraft to Aeroflot much earlier. Irkut has also sealed an aftermarket, maintenance and training pact with the carrier.

Aviakapital-Servis signed its first agreement for the MS-21 in August 2011, comprising a deal for 50 firm and 35 optioned aircraft.

Tupolev delivered a VIP Tu-204-300 to the Russian government this year but has battled to secure a launch customer for its Tu-204SM, with an on-off agreement with Red Wings, but the programme's future remains uncertain. Ilyushin Finance had shown interest but dropped out following delays, and while Syrian Arab Airlines had signed for the type, the political unrest in Syria has piled further doubt on its prospects.

But the Aviastar plant at Ulyanovsk, which manufactures the Tu-204, has been gaining work from the Superjet programme, performing interior fitting on the type. Aviadvigatel has also developed an upgrade version of the PS-90 powerplant, designated the -A3U, which is being offered as a re-engining option to Tu-204 and Tu-214 operators.

Two Russian carriers, Rossiya and Polet, operate the Antonov An-148 and are due to be joined this year by a third, Angara Airlines, but only a handful are in service. Several are still undergoing assembly, and airframer VASO has been working to improve aftersales support for the type.

Samara-based airframer Aviakor has been quietly delivering twin-turboprop Antonov An-140s, for which it has a three-year contract with the Russian defence ministry. It plans to assemble six this year but believes the high price of the type and limited production capacity - fewer than 11 per year - are countering potential interest from airlines, particularly those in Siberia and far-eastern Russia, where the An-140 can handle harsh conditions.

Large, consolidated orders would reduce production costs, says Aviakor, and the plant could be "quickly converted" to build 30 annually, given the necessary funding of some Rb3.5 billion ($100 million).