SuperJet International (SJI), the former joint venture between Italian firm Leonardo and Russia’s United Aircraft (UAC), is bidding to make an unlikely comeback, including plans to relaunch production of the SSJ100 regional jet at a new site in the United Arab Emirates.

Central to the effort – subject to Italian and Russian government approvals – is the sale of UAC’s 49% stake in Venice-based SJI to UAE-based Mark AB Capital Investments, who would join existing shareholders Studio Guidotti International (41%) and Leonardo (10%).

SSJ100-c-SuperJet International

Source: SuperJet International

“With the [ratification] of this agreement, UAC shall effectively exit the Superjet programme,” says SJI.

But it is unclear what exactly state-owned UAC will exit. The manufacturer has been pressing ahead with the development of a ‘Russified’ version of the Superjet – stripped of Western content and branded as the Irkut SSJ-New – which has already attracted large orders from Russian airlines.

It would seem impossible for UAC to abandon those plans given the needs of Russian carriers for domestically built jets due to their international isolation on the back of the war with Ukraine. But if SJI does relaunch production it could see two very similar regional aircraft on the market.

SJI did not immediately respond to questions about this issue.

SJI’s shares and assets have been frozen since Russia’s invasion of its neighbour in February 2022, resulting in a skeleton workforce of 110 employees being retained at its facility in Venice Tessera airport.

The new ownership contemplates a “relaunch plan” through which €190 million ($201 million) would be injected into the company, the majority – €110 million – going to the Venice site.

SJI says the investment will “support the development of new aircraft configurations, the construction of the new branch in the UAE, as well as the continuous development of the aircraft to address market competition.”

It plans to establish a new final assembly line for the jet at Al Ain International airport, which would build ‘green’ aircraft for completion in Venice. SJI was previously responsible for sales and marketing of the SSJ100 to western customers, and completion and delivery of those aircraft.

SJI sees a market for a minimum of 240 aircraft, including passenger, freighter and VIP versions “most of which will be destined for the UAE and Indian markets”.

However, substantial challenges would ned to be overcome before production could start, particularly around re-establishing the SSJ100’s supply chain.

Notably, new engines would need to be sourced to replace the previous SaM146 turbofans from PowerJet, a joint venture between Safran of France and Russia’s NPO Saturn.

SJI does not disclose when it expects the first aircraft to roll off the Al Ain production line, nor how it proposes to recreate the jet’s supplier base.

According to an interview in Gulf News with Mark AB chief executive Abdullah Al Qubaisi, the factory – described as an $180 million investment – will be completed in 2025 and initially produce 10-15 aircraft per year.

In addition to completions activities, the Venice site will be the Design Organisation Authority and Production Organisation Authority for the SSJ100. It will also retain responsibility for marketing and sales activities, installation of aircraft options, pilot and crew training, final flight tests, deliveries, and customer support.