Tu-204SM to fly this year despite programme uncertainty

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First flight of the modernised Tupolev Tu-204SM twin-jet is still scheduled to take place this year despite uncertainty over the launch of serial production.

Ulyanovsk-based airframer Aviastar has three of the type under final completion, says director Sergey Dementyev.

"One is scheduled to leave the workshop and become airborne in mid-December," he says. "After it carries out primary evaluation flights, we'll make a decision regarding the other two."

Dementyev indicates that the Tu-204SM is essentially a new aircraft type with 70% of its equipment more advanced than that on the baseline Tu-204-100.

But the type's commercial prospects appear doubtful after launch customer Atlant-Soyuz - now Moskva Airlines - in September backed away from an agreement to acquire 15 aircraft.

"The situation with the [Tu-204SM] programme is difficult," admits United Aircraft president Alexey Fyodorov.

Speaking at a briefing in Kiev last week he said the order for 15 Tu-204SMs was "crucial" and hinged on the backing from the Moscow city government which owns the carrier.

"We haven't yet discussed the matter with the new mayor and his team but hope to know their standpoint soon," says Fyodorov.

Citing talks with component suppliers for the Tu-204SM, Fyodorov believes its price could be reduced substantially to make it appealing for domestic customers.

Identifying Red Wings as a carrier prepared to place an order for up to 40 jets, he says: "We need to assess the soundness of that intention and study their price requirements."

Tupolev recently expressed willingness to share financial risks of serial production with Aviastar. It adds that, following discussions with various parties, it could potentially cut unit production costs by 27-30% although this would depend on securing firm orders for 44 aircraft over the next five years.