With over a year of in-service experience under its belt at ­Interjet, SuperJet ­International (SJI) is confident that it is poised to expand its global customer base for the Sukhoi ­Superjet 100 (SSJ) regional jet.

The Mexican airline inaugurated services with the Russian-built 100-seater in September last year and now has 11 in service. Two more should be delivered before the year is out.

There are now around 40 SSJs in service worldwide.

Interjet's experience with the SSJ so far has beaten all expectations, says SJI chief executive Nazario Cauceglia.

“Interjet confirms that the aircraft is flying with an in-service reliability of around 99%, which is much higher than the corresponding value the airline had with its A320 fleet in the same phase of introduction."

Based in Venice, SJI is a joint venture between Alenia Aermacchi (51%) and Sukhoi (49%) and is responsible for marketing the SSJ in Western markets.

Interjet is the only customer SJI has announced so far. But with the validation of the airline's early in-service experience combined with an aggressive sales campaign and claimed lower operating costs, Cauceglia is confident the SSJ can compete strongly against the current Embraer E-Jet family and the upgraded Pratt & Whitney geared turbofan-powered E2 series.

"We start from a basis of a 10% better cash operating cost with respect to our direct Embraer competitor today, and most likely – even without doing anything – we would be able to compete with the E2," says Cauceglia.

"But to keep a certain amount of gain we have decided to keep improving our aircraft. That's why we are confident that when the E2 comes we will have an aircraft with the same performance," he adds.

Describing SJI's price structure as "very attractive", Cauceglia says the Superjet programme benefits from the strong financial support of the company's shareholders "because they really want to penetrate this market".

Cauceglia explains that the unproven nature of the SSJ means that it cannot yet rely on "attractive residual value data", so SJI has put together "very attractive operating lease proposals", which include turnkey maintenance support, to increase the financial appeal of the aircraft.

"We know that the competition is very fierce. We are overcoming the phase when nobody knew our aircraft, but we are a newcomer so we must be able to offer to the market everything we can to make our proposal more attractive."

SJI is currently bidding in four campaigns, says Cauceglia, but he declines to name the airlines involved. However, he notes the strategic importance of the recent deal between Belgian carrier VLM and Russian lessor Ilyushin Finance for the lease of an initial two Superjets next year. "Finally, our aircraft will be operated in Europe. This is extremely important and I'm sure it can open the door to other, bigger deals," he says.

Although the initial deal was done through Sukhoi and IFC because of the short lead time to delivery, Cauceglia says SJI will provide VLM's customer support.

Another serious prospect is understood to be VLM's former sister airline, Irish regional carrier CityJet, which is known to be evaluating the SSJ to replace its BAE Systems Avro RJ85 fleet.

Should the SSJ be selected, CityJet would require it to be approved for operations at London City airport, and Cauceglia says Sukhoi is already working to set up a programme to achieve this. "We can make our aircraft operate from London City with a full payload without major changes," he says. "Certification can be done in less than one year."

Developments in the pipeline to improve the type's performance include a winglet upgrade and weight reduction.

Cauceglia says the baseline design concept has been selected and work is under way to finesse the configuration. "The winglet will be retrofittable on to in-service aircraft," he adds.

Source: Flight Daily News