Belgian regional carrier VLM Airlines is delaying its planned introduction of Sukhoi Superjets by more than a year because of a certification hold-up affecting the type's long-range variant.

In October 2014, the Antwerp-based wet-lease and scheduled carrier signed a tentative lease deal with Ilyushin Finance covering two Superjet 100LRs (plus two options and 10 purchase rights), with the first aircraft scheduled for delivery in April 2015.

That target has been moved to the third quarter of 2016 to enable European Aviation Safety Agency certification of "features" on the aircraft's LR variant, says VLM. This include certain flap settings, for take-off and landing, intended to deliver "significant performance enhancements", the carrier says.

The Superjet's short take-off and landing capability was a central reason for its selection by VLM, chief executive Arthur White told Flightglobal in November. Antwerp has a 1,500m (5,000ft) runway, and the airline operates to London City, at which aircraft can only operate if the manufacturer has gained a special steep-approach approval.

White also wants to deploy the aircraft to destinations with small airports that cannot be served by Airbus A320s and Boeing 737s, in order to differentiate VLM from budget airlines.

The hold-up is "not specific" to the planned steep-approach certification for the Superjet, the airline says.

White said in November that EASA approval for the LR variant was targeted for September 2015. The airline had planned to take delivery of the first aircraft in standard configuration in April and later modify it to LR specification, a change it foresaw would mainly involve software updates to the engine control computers.

VLM is the first western European customer for the Superjet. The carrier specialises in wet-lease flying but started scheduled flights earlier this year. It operates a Fokker 50 turboprop fleet.

Source: Cirium Dashboard