Russian authorities have given their approval in principle for modernised Tupolev Tu-204SM twin-jets to be manufactured, following Red Wings' confirmation that it is interested in becoming the launch customer for the type.
Following a government commission meeting, the industry and trade ministry has announced that the Tu-204SM project is to be continued until the MS-21 production programme begins in 2016.
"It will become a transitional project," says the ministry's aviation department chief Yuri Slyusar. "It should help preserve competences in building mainline aircraft and provide for testing technologies to be applied on the MS-21."
Manufacturing Tu-204SMs, the first prototype of which is undergoing flight trials, does not call for additional state backing, says Slyusar. "Rather, there is a need to readjust current support measures to the road map that we've adopted for the project."
Slyusar says the commission has fulfilled a major task of lowering Tu-204SM operational costs to meet requirements set by Moscow-based Red Wings, which is willing to place an order for 44 aircraft.
He adds: "There will be a new after-sales support scheme complete with an efficient infrastructure system to maintain a stock of spare parts as requested by the launch customer."
Red Wings owner National Reserve Corporation says it is prepared to place a Tu-204SM order valued at Rb1.07 billion ($35.9 million), up from the previously indicated Rb750 billion, and could sell its 15% shareholding in Aeroflot to finance the deal.
"We've agreed on the market price for this aircraft," says Aviastar managing director Sergei Dementyev, adding that the airframer has six of the type under assembly and is poised to start building a further 10. "Our prime goal now is to stick to the demanding production schedule."
Tupolev is working towards gaining domestic certification for the Tu-204SM in 2011 so that Red Wings could receive the first two aircraft this year and a further six in 2012.
The government commission has recommended that Vnesheconombank extends a $1.8 billion credit line to leasing company Ilyushin Finance to fund the project. The lessor expects to sign an agreement with the state-owned bank in March, once its credit committee approves the loan.