Russian regional carrier Sibir is set to lease Western aircraft before taking delivery of its first Russian Regional Jets (RRJ), with the Boeing 717 thought to be the frontrunner.

The airline recently became the launch customer for the Sukhoi-led RRJ programme, but Sibir general director Vladislav Filiov says additional aircraft will be needed ahead of the RRJ's planned service entry in 2007. "As aircraft are retired during the next few years, excess capacity will turn into a deficit and, unfortunately, without serious reformsand large investments the Russian aircraft manufacturing industrywill not be able to cover this deficit," he says.

Sibir sources say that 10-15 100-seat aircraft are required. Sibir is thought to be considering the 717 as an interim measure, although Filiov denies reports that the airline is considering acquiring 100 of the type.

Sibir's total requirement is for around 100 aircraft, which will be met by the RRJ, for which the carrier now has placed orders for 50, with 10 options.

The RRJ is designed to become the backbone of the Russian regional fleet, but Filiov says: "Until this airliner is put into production, Russian carriers will lean towards importing Western aircraft."

Several Soviet-era aircraft are reaching retirement, with short- range aircraft particularly problematic. The last Antonov An-24 was produced in 1973, and the last Yakovlev Yak-40 in 1981.

Since the first quarter, Kras Air, Transaero and VIM have imported Western aircraft to meet capacity needs, and industry insiders estimate that an additional 10 Russian carriers are holding talks with lessors.

UTair, Russia's fifth largest airline, has awarded Shannon-based Magellan Air the contract to supply it with five secondhand ATR 42-300s, with deliveries beginning before the end of the year. The aircraft will partially replace the airline's ageing Antonov An-24 fleet.



Source: Flight International