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Regional variants get set for business

KATESARSFIELD / LONDON

Former Soviet manufacturers aim to offer disillusioned premium-class travellers flexibility, convenience and security

Two aircraft manufacturers, one Ukranian and the other Russian, are planning to enter the business aircraft market for the first time with variants of regional airliners now under development.

Ukraine-based Antonov and the Kharkov State Aircraft Manufacturing company (KSAMC), is touting a 10/12-seat version of its twin-engined, 60-seat An-74TK-300, dubbed the ABJ. It has already received a letter of intent from Russian flag carrier Aeroflot for five aircraft that will be used to transport premium class passengers.

The deal is expected to be converted into firm orders in October, with delivery to follow 11 months later, says KSAMC general director Pavlo Naumenko.

"We are confident there is a market [for the ABJ] in Russia as well as the Middle East, Eastern Europe and throughout Asia, [where interest in the aircraft has already been expressed by governments in the region]," Naumenko says. The aircraft will be completed by interior design company InterAMI and will make its debut at next year's Paris air show.

Russian manufacturer Tupolev is to offer a business aircraft variant of the 50-seat Tu-324 twinjet. Tupolev says it has looked "seriously" at the business jet market for a couple years, prompted by government-led research into future demand for regional and business aircraft in Russia.

Tupolev's head of powerplants  Alexander Pemov says: "The Civil Aviation Institute predicts a market for around 200 business aircraft in Russia over the next 15 years. Tupolev should be well positioned to carve its share of the market with the 8/10-seat Tu-324." The Tu-324 is due to enter airline service in 2005.

Both manufacturers say the burgeoning demand for business aircraft is driven by the increasing numbers of wealthy individuals and large corporations. Like their western counterparts, these groups have become disillusioned with airlines and are seeking the flexibility, convenience and security that business aircraft can provide.

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