Russian carrier Red Wings is looking at the Airbus A321 as a contingency to the Tupolev Tu-204SM, having cut back its initial commitment for the new type from 44 to just 15.
Red Wings negotiated a deal for 44 Tu-204SMs in 2010, but this plan lapsed after lessor Ilyushin Finance lost interest and the flight-test programme suffered delays.
Certification is not expected before autumn 2012 and a senior management source at the carrier says: "We continue to work out mutually agreeable solutions with United Aircraft, its suppliers and financial institutions. But the time runs fast and the window of opportunity is closing."
Red Wings is looking at acquiring 22-28 A321s as a contingency plan. The carrier believes falling prices for the type - as well as used Boeing 737s and 757s - are a threat to the Tu-204SM project.
Effective monthly lease rates are also "disproportionately higher" for the Tupolev compared with the Airbus, the source indicates, owing to peculiarities of the lease market and aircraft finance package structuring in Russia.
Red Wings is retaining faith in the Tu-204SM's terms of purchase, which it describes as a mix of "proven and some very innovative solutions" which focus on the "most common issues" of Russian commercial aviation, notably maintenance.
However, the source adds that Russian government subsidies for domestic products are "insufficient" to enable the Tu-204 to "fit into market realities". The carrier believes a broader application of other principles, such as power-by-the-hour schemes for the type's engines, would render Russian airliners more competitive in the market.