Sukhoi Civil Aircraft is expected to name a launch customer for the Russian Regional Jet (RRJ) this week with Sibir, UTair and leasing company FLC seen as likely first buyers. The candidates have plans to order up to 100 RRJs this year, a number considered sufficient by Sukhoi for full-scale launch by October.

Russia's largest domestic carrier Sibir is negotiating an order for 50 RRJs with 10 options - worth about $1 billion - which is the largest deal Sukhoi can expect this year. First delivery is planned for 2007.

Sukhoi general director Mikhail Pogosyan says that, if won, the expected Sibir order would enable "a full-scale launch" of the RRJ project. He adds that he is optimistic that "a good number of Russia's largest airlines" will have placed RRJ orders by the end of this year.

The 60-to 100-seat RRJ family is offered in three fuselage lengths - the RRJ-60, -75 and -95 - in basic and long-range variants, with the latter incorporating additional fuel capacity. All aircraft are powered by Snecma/NPO Saturn SM146s.

Sibir's expected order would focus on the largest, shortest-range variant, the RRJ-95B, which Sibir general director Vladislav Filev says would be able to replace the airline's larger Tupolev Tu-154Bs and Ms. Sukhoi is finalising work on defining the RRJ-95B with a focus on Sibir's requirements.

UTair says that it "seeks to issue an order for the RRJ no later than October 2004". UTair general director Andrei Martirosov says that the airline will have "to renew the fleet by 2010 and replace 20 Tu-134s". Should Sibir and UTair become first RRJ customers, this will lead to the RRJ being opimised for Siberian airlines that need a 3,500-5,000km (1,900-2,700nm) range.

Source: Flight International