At air shows past, Superjet International has given pride of place to an aircraft belonging to a carrier operating on the other side of the Atlantic. It had little choice: Mexico’s Interjet was its sole customer. But an airline flying much closer to home will be the face of the Italian-based distributor at this Farnborough. The first Sukhoi Superjet to go into service in Europe, with Ireland’s CityJet, is appearing on Superjet International’s static display, just two weeks after launching revenue service.
The order for 15 SSJ100s from CityJet, with a further 16 options, was arguably as big a breakthrough for Superjet International as the original order from Interjet – initially for the same number of aircraft – five years ago, and came at exactly the right time. The Venice-based Leonardo-Sukhoi joint venture – responsible for sales and support of the Russian regional jet in the western hemisphere – expects to deliver the last of 30 aircraft to Interjet in the first quarter of 2017.
“We are so proud of this achievement,” says chief executive Nazario Cauceglia, speaking just ahead of the air show. “The fact that CityJet’s first aircraft is at Farnborough makes it a very important event. It marks our entry into one of the most important markets, Europe, a market for which we have very good expectations. We see CityJet developing a new business model and we think the SSJ100 is the ideal aircraft for this opportunity.”
After taking delivery of the 98-seat, five-abreast aircraft on 24 May, the Dublin-based airline will operate the aircraft on scheduled services between Cork and La Rochelle this summer. A second example was due to be delivered around the time of the show, with a third aircraft arriving in October. Superjet International expects to deliver all of a first batch of eight aircraft by the first half of next year, with shipment of the second batch of seven starting at the end of 2018.
The reason behind the break in deliveries is that the second consignment will have a new configuration, including winglets and software changes to braking distance and approach speeds. These are designed to allow the Superjet to be certificated to operate from London City, a key plank of CityJet’s strategy for the type. The airline plans to replace its fleet of 17 BAE Systems Avro RJ85s based at the Docklands airport, but not before 2019.
Until then, CityJet will use the aircraft on wet-lease and charter operations for other airlines. Cauceglia says that the appearance of the Superjet at a wide range of European airports will give the Russian type a new sort of exposure. “We are very conscious we will have the eyes of the market on us,” he says. “Our customer is already getting phone calls from other European airlines. The more CityJet uses it, the more curiosity it will create.”
Once the new configuration for CityJet is certificated, Superjet International will retrofit the operator’s early aircraft with the winglets at its facility in Venice. That centre handles all the cabin outfitting, maintenance and training for the joint venture’s western hemisphere territory. Cauceglia says he is confident Superjet International can support CityJet’s aftermarket requirements “very effectively, based on what we have done for Interjet”.
Although the Superjet is in service with a number of airlines, mostly in the former Soviet Union – that market is controlled by Sukhoi Civil Aircraft – Interjet for five years remained the Venice firm’s only customer. However, the Mexican airline has been an important ambassador for the type, increasing its initial commitment for 15 aircraft by five in 2012 and then 10 more last year. Interjet deploys the aircraft intensively, usually on six or seven legs a day and often in hot and high environments.
A total of 21 of the 30 aircraft have been delivered, with two more ready for delivery, and the rest to follow over about six months. So far, the airline has not opted to retrofit the winglet package, but Cauceglia says he “cannot exclude” the possibility as Interjet opens longer routes for which it may need the additional range that the wing-tip modifications offer. The Superjets currently fly to a range of cities in Mexico as well as to the USA.
Eduardo Munhos de Campos, Superjet International’s head of commercial, believes the CityJet order has “changed the momentum of the programme”. As well as increasing the type’s exposure in Europe, he still believes Latin America offers much potential, as does Africa. “The model we are proposing is one that offers a better quality of air transport for lower-density city pairs where the low-cost model [using Airbus or Boeing narrowbodies] is not viable,” he says.
The former Embraer executive believes that the “huge growth” in the low-cost market will begin to plateau as airlines look for smaller aircraft to develop new routes that do not compromise on the comfort of a single-aisle airliner. The marketing of the Superjet has always centred on its wider, five-abreast cabin and an interior that improves on the somewhat cramped environment of the traditional sub-100-seat jet.
That is a view echoed by Pat Byrne, executive chairman of CityJet. Speaking in May, just before the aircraft made the headlines in the football world by carrying the Irish team to the Euro championships in France, he described the Superjet 100 as a “game-changing” aircraft. “We know we made the right choice,” he said. “I think its operational performance, its economics and, above everything else, its passenger appeal is going to transform regional aviation in Europe.”
Sukhoi could soon be adding length to the aircraft, too. The Russian company is in the final stages of developing a stretch, 120-seat version of the jet, which should be ready to enter service in 2019. The aircraft will have a redesigned wing but the PowerJet SaM146 engine – a joint venture between Safran and Russia’s Saturn – will have only a minor tweak to increase thrust by 5%, after an all-new version of the powerplant was ruled out.
Although a 130-seat variant, with scaled-up engine, had been on the original Sukhoi Civil Aircraft gameplan, Cauceglia says the decision to go for a more modest stretch will “contain development costs”. He adds that a 120-seater is “what the market is looking for”. The Superjet, which is assembled at Sukhoi’s facility in Komsomolsk on Amur, will “remain a regional airplane”, operating in the segment below the smallest narrowbodies, he insists.
Through different partnerships, Leonardo (previously Finmeccanica) and Sukhoi co-operate on the programme itself and in the sales and support of the aircraft. But the relationship between the partners has not always been smooth, with wider political differences between the countries making things more strained, especially after European governments clamped down on economic links following the Crimean invasion.
At one point last year, when the fall in the value of the Russian rouble was pushing up the cost of Western components, including the elements of the engine made by Safran, Sukhoi seemed to be committing to replacing Western suppliers with Russian ones, who could be paid in local currency. At the time, Cauceglia gave this short shrift, saying that re-certification costs and potential damage to the brand made this option unfeasible.
At the same time, the two companies began to look at ways to improve their partnership model, under which Sukhoi and Superjet International have strictly defined sales territories. Cauceglia says progress has been made. “Negotiations are continuing,” he says. “There will certainly be some modification to the organisation. Ultimately, the programme comes first. Anything we can do to improve the activity of the programme will be welcome.”
Source: Flight Daily News