Initial operations with the new Antonov An-148 regional jet are proving expensive compared with other aircraft, the Russian launch customer has told a technical conference, and the type needs better maintenance support.

St Petersburg-based carrier Rossiya took delivery of the first serial Russian-built An-148 last October and the airline will receive its fourth in June. The conference on 27 May aimed to examine the type's performance over the first few months of service.

Rossiya general director Sergei Belov put forward a candid assessment of the airline's early experience with the An-148. He says the aircraft had high operating costs and was "worse" than the Boeing 737 in terms of commercial efficiency. Rossiya's fleet includes 737-500s.

Lease payments for the An-148 are 30% higher in comparison with the 737 and to generate an "acceptable level of profitability", says Belov, the aircraft must be flown for at least 10-12 hours per day.

Belov adds that efficient operation of the type would be "difficult" without the assistance of equipment manufacturers and developers. Priority must be given to creating round-the-clock technical support availability, setting up spares centres, and expansion of the An-148's minimum equipment list.

Design bureau Antonov, airframer VASO and other industry organisations need to provide "full support" to ensure successful operation on the An-148, adds Belov, while airports in Russia should also receive assistance to cope with handling the aircraft.

Rossiya An-148

Rossiya, which intends to have six An-148s in service by the end of 2010, nevertheless says that the twin-jet has good prospects for use on regional routes in spite of the problems arising from introducing a new type.

Federal air transport regulator Rosaviatsia's chief, Alexander Neradko, says that the 68-seat An-148, as Russia's offering to address regional aircraft demand, is attracting close attention. He says the technical conference - which included representatives of Antonov, VASO, Ilyushin Finance and Motor-Sich - aimed to discuss the "most painful" issues arising from initial operations and find ways to resolve them.

Source: Air Transport Intelligence news