Russia's first serial production Antonov An-148 is to be transferred back to airframer VASO in Voronezh to undergo modification in a bid to improve the type's performance. The performance review could include an evaluation of potentially re-engining the 70-seater with the Sukhoi Superjet's PowerJet SaM146 turbofan.
The An-148 (RA-61701) is one of four in service with Rossiya. It was being flown back to VASO in late July where it will undergo up to two months of refinement, the airframer says.
VASO deputy technical director Igor Abramov says the modifications will take into account feedback received over the first few months of operation of the type.
He adds that any performance improvements will be incorporated into assembly of subsequent An-148s. Abramov says this will have a "positive effect on the attractiveness of the aircraft" to airlines.
Rossiya had criticised aspects of the An-148's performance at a conference in May during which it detailed its experience with the type.
While VASO has not given much indication of the modifications to be carried out, it says that they could include a more comfortable interior and improvements to the heating system, allowing the type to operate under more extreme conditions in the north of Russia.
The airframer says that taking the aircraft back to Voronezh was a simpler option than sending teams of engineers to Rossiya's St Petersburg base to conduct structural and technological improvements.
Rossiya, which is taking its An-148 fleet through leasing company Ilyushin Finance, is due to receive a fifth An-148 before the end of August.
Ilyushin Finance, which holds marketing rights for the An-148 under an agreement with Antonov, says VASO will tentatively assess the SaM146's potential for the An-148 and the possibility of using it to replace the current Progress D-436 engine, built by Ukrainian engine manufacturer Motor Sich.
This exercise, however, is only intended to compare technical characteristics of the two engines. Antonov points out that equipping the An-148 with a new powerplant would require special permission.
Motor Sich has dismissed the re-engining proposal, insisting such a move would be legally questionable. The engine maker's board chairman Vyacheslav Boguslayev says the enterprise had a long-term agreement with Antonov to supply Progress D-436 engines.
"Under it, Antonov is to equip the first 50 serial An-148s with our engines so that allow us to break even on the development costs," he says. "Ahead of that, putting any other powerplant on the An-148 would be in violation of this agreement."
Motor Sich says it is capable of producing three dozen D-436s this year while its tentative agreement with Ilyushin Finance envisages the supply of 60 more engines in 2011.
But Boguslayev has cautioned against using an alternative engine for the An-148, saying: "If it happens, we would take the matter to court and seek $45 million in damages."