Syrian Arab Airlines has taken a step towards acquiring Russian-built jets to address its urgent fleet-renewal requirements, tentatively opting for the Tupolev Tu-204SM while an Airbus agreement remains in limbo.
The Damascus-based carrier has been trying for several years to rebuild its fleet with up to 50 Airbus jets, including the A350, but has been unable to seal an agreement owing to US government sanctions.
Syrian Arab Airlines chief Ghaida Abdullatif has signed a memorandum of understanding with Tupolev and Ulyanovsk-based airframe Aviastar, envisaging "an initial delivery" of three Tu-204SM aircraft starting from 2013.
Tupolev does not specify further delivery plans apart from saying it intends to set up a designated technical support centre for the Tu-204SM in Syria.
Syrian Arab Airlines has struggled to keep its current Airbus fleet operating because of the sanctions regime. While the carrier has not been keen to resort to Russian aircraft, preferring to hold out for the Airbus agreement, it has admitted that there might be few other options in the short term to solve its pressing capacity needs.
Tentative moves to place Russian aircraft with the carrier date back at least to 2006 and Syrian Arab Airlines looked again at the Tu-204 in 2009.
Two examples of the new Tu-204SM are undergoing in-flight acoustic tests in conformity with European Aviation Safety Agency methods, said Tupolev director for certification Boris Maloy.
"Noise parameters are being measured at different altitudes, taking account of air humidity and temperature. Preliminary results show that these data are within the projected range," said Maloy, adding that Tupolev has already completed testing Tu-204SM hydraulic systems under increased working pressure.