Aleksander Lebedev, the owner of Russian carrier Red Wings, has written to Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin urging him to take personal control over the ailing Tupolev Tu-204SM programme.

Red Wings operates eight older Tu-204-100s and signed a preliminary agreement in late 2010 for 44 Tu-204SMs. However, that deal was thrown into doubt earlier this year when Ilyushin Finance (IFC), which was meant to structure a financial package for the order, decided to quit the project, considering it too risky in the light of weak governmental support.

Following IFC's decision to pull out, United Aircraft (UAC) has been trying to arrange a deal with the Kremlin-controlled VEB bank, so far without success. UAC says there are "several other intended customers" for the type, and talks with them continue.

Lebedev said he wants more substantial state backing for the project, which is meant to maintain Russian aerospace competitiveness in narrowbody segment until the next-generation Irkut MS-21 becomes available in 2016.

Launching the Tu-204SM into series production would provide sufficient work to three key Russian plants - Aviastar, KAPO and Perm Motors - tiding them over until the launch of the MS-21, said Lebedev.

It would also aid the development of Red Wings, he added.

Tu-204SM chief designer Oleg Alasheev said that so far, two operable Tu-204SM prototypes have logged over 70 flights. Tupolev will start certification trials after completion of the manufacturer's trials in August.

The 108-tonne MTOW twinjet can transport up to 215 passengers 2,595nm (4,800km) or 166 passengers 3,297nm. First delivery is planned for 2012, but so far the type lacks firm orders.

UAC is now trying to persuade Russian airline UTair to become the launch customer for the aircraft.

Andrey Martirosov, UTair general director, confirmed the airline is considering buying indigenous aircraft to replace 38 older Russian airframes.

Martitosov said: "If UAC gives us good terms and the aircraft meets its specification, we will go for it.

"I spoke to Tupolev's management and highlighted the issues that must be solved before contract negotiations commence. Our talks will resume if Tupolev overcomes these problems."

Source: Air Transport Intelligence news