Sibir drops RRJ plan after specification change

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Russia’s Sibir has abandoned plans to order the Sukhoi Civil Aircraft Russian Regional Jet (RRJ), citing the fact that the aircraft’s revised specification no longer meets its requirement.

The Novosibirsk-based carrier, which markets itself as “S7”, was the first airline to sign commitments for the 70- to 100-seat regional jet in 2004, with a deal for 50 RRJ-95s plus 10 options. However, Sibir general director Vladislav Filev says he has refused to firm up this agreement and has dropped the RRJ from consideration “until it flies”. Aeroflot is now the lead customer on the programme.

Speaking to Flight International at the Civil Aviation of Russia: Goals and Prospects roundtable organised with the support of the US embassy, Filev said that when Sibir signed the RRJ agreement, “we were signing for the aircraft that corresponded to our specification. Sukhoi has changed the specification of the baseline model. It is no longer the aircraft we expected it to be.”

Filev said that because the RRJ-95 is now optimised for 3,500-4,000km (1,890-2,150nm) routes, it has excessive weight and price. Claiming that the RRJ-95 “will be as inadequate as the Tu-204”, Filev’s view is that the market does not need such long range, but rather lower weight, fuel burn and operating costs. He added that Russian manufacturers, including Sukhoi, have not yet mastered how to work with customers, be they major Russian airlines or Western lessors. He said that Sibir had asked Sukhoi to cater for its specific requirements during RRJ Airline Advisory Board sessions,“but we were not listened to and the other opinion prevailed”.

Despite the RRJ setback, Sibir aims to expand its fleet to ensure it remains the largest carrier in Russia’s domestic market, said Filev. Its Boeing 737-500 fleet will grow to 14 aircraft this year, with a further six to be added by 2009, and this fleet is ultimately set to total 24 aircraft.

Sibir will increase its Airbus A310 fleet to seven aircraft this year, and in the longer term it expects to acquire secondhand A330s or 767s from Western airlines as they are displaced by A350s or 787s.

VLADIMIR KARNOZOV / RUSSIA