SINGAPORE: Sukhoi seeks to exploit Asian market for Superjet

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The Sukhoi Superjet 100's appearance at the Singapore Airshow highlights the importance of the Southeast Asian market, as the regional twinjet programme spearheads Moscow's efforts to restore the presence of Russian passenger aircraft in the global fleet.

“Southeast Asia is an important market for us," says Sukhoi Civil Aircraft Company president Andrei Kalinovsky. "This region develops fast, demonstrating a 6-7% annual growth. We hope to sell here a big portion of the 830 aircraft to be produced in accordance with our business plan."

Heavy political support and financial aid has enabled SCAC to achieve a twofold increase in production, turning out 24 aircraft in 2013 compared with 12 a year earlier. Kalinovsky describes the 2013 results as “rather successful in general”, adding that company’s revenues “almost doubled” in 2013. “There is some lagging behind the business plan, but rather small," he says.

SCAC plans to assemble 40 aircraft in 2014, and Kalinovsky claims that all aircraft due for completion in 2014 “have customers”, and half of those to be assembled in 2015 are also spoken for.

PT Sky Aviation – an Indonesian start-up airline established in 2010 – signed a contract for 12 Superjets at the 2011 Moscow air show. The first aircraft was delivered in 2012 and two more followed in 2013. Moscow-based Vnesheconombank (VEB) developed a “complex credit and lease scheme” to structure the aircraft finance package. PT Sky Aviation was granted a 12-year credit worth $80 million, which covered the lion’s share of the financing for these three aircraft.

A local leasing company was established by the bank and its leasing arm VEB Leasing as part of the deal. No new deliveries to Indonesia are planned for 2014, but a year later PT Sky Aviation may receive another batch of three aircraft if its route network and tickets sales grow fast enough to justify such a fleet expansion, Kalinovsky says.

Lao Central Airlines has ordered three Superjets with an option for six more. The first aircraft – registered RDPL-34195 – was delivered almost a year ago and has been operating alongside two Boeing 737-400s. “The current fleet is sufficient to maintain flights on the schedule the airline has,” says Kalinovsky. Although RDPL-34196 was exhibited at MAKS 2013, it remains with the manufacturer. A third airframe, RDPL-34197, was publicly demonstrated in December, and despite carrying a Laotian registration is likely to go to a Russian operator.

“Much depends on the airline, how it will develop the network of routes and generate growth of passenger traffic. Financial obligations on the only Superjet being operated in Laos are the airline’s responsibility. Times of follow-on deliveries are yet to be agreed; no shipments to Laos are planned for 2014”, says Kalinovsky.

In January the Russian government announced plans for additional non-refundable grants to SCAC for improvement of the Superjet baseline model. These include Rb7 billion ($199 million) for curing teething problems, and Rb19.5 billion for research and development on new versions to expand the product range.

“As long as the airplane lives, we will be improving it," says Kalinovsky. “A passenger airliner is a complex, technically complicated system which is not easy for the manufacturer to introduce into everyday airline service. There is still a question how long it will take us to solve this task." Engineering efforts on perfecting the baseline aircraft design and onboard systems continue.

Outlining plans for a new version, the SCAC president says the Sukhoi Business Jet is now planned for market entry in 2015-2016. The manufacturer is also working on a stretched passenger version for market entry in the next 3-4 years. “This one is not going to be a simple stretch – the aircraft will be modified. This is something I can tell you for sure," Kalinovsky says. “We have entered the global market and are in real completion with Embraer and Bombardier."

By introducing new versions, Sukhoi wants to stay ahead of its competitors. “Our business plan calls for 830 aircraft sales. To sell that many, the maker must constantly improve the product and always offer something better. In addition to the new versions, we are working to give the baseline aircraft improvements in flight performance, comfort, operational performance and maintenance," says Kalinovsky.

This work is being done at the insistence of Aeroflot, which received four Superjets in 2011 and six in 2012. Aeroflot has made over 16,000 revenue flights with the type since operations commenced two and a half years ago. The Russian flag carrier's average monthly utilisation rate across the Superjet fleet is a mere 146h per aircraft, due to a mix of teething problems and the continuing dispute over the roles to be played by the airline, aircraft manufacturer and service providers. According to the airline’s safety report in 2012, 10 Superjets making up 8% of the total fleet were responsible for 40% of all technical snags.

“Aeroflot is the launch customer for the Superjet. With our Aeroflot colleagues we have covered a difficult way of making the new type mature for the work on the market and curing its teething problems," says Kalinovsky.

Out of 10 Superjets that Aeroflot received in 2011-2012, six were withdrawn from the airline’s fleet during 2013 on the pretext that their cabins were made to the “light” interior standard, while the customer wanted “full”. Sukhoi promised to provide seven “full” aircraft for replacement in 2013, but managed only four – the last of which was handed over on 31 December. Aeroflot’s Superjet 100B-Full has a 46t gross weight and 1,300nm (2,400km) range with 87 passengers. The airline signed for 30 aircraft in this configuration.