Sukhoi is positive on regional jet future despite failure to capture Aeroflot order

The future of Sukhoi’s Russian Regional Jet (RRJ) programme hinges on developments in the next two months, after the much-anticipated Aeroflot order failed to materialise at Le Bourget.

Sukhoi says it is “finalising” last year’s landmark deal with Sibir and “negotiating seriously” with Aeroflot, in a hope of securing firm orders by August’s MAKS 2005 air show in Moscow. The manufacturer has already signed an agreement with Finance-Leasing (FLK) in support of potential deliveries so that the aircraft ordered by Russian airlines can be delivered under 10- to 15-year financial lease terms.

At the show, Aeroflot general director Valery Okulov told Flight International that he was not about to place an order. “We are not signing...not now,” he said.

The project is set for the critical design review with Boeing advisers in mid-July, as it faces tough competition from Antonov’s An-148 twinjet in the CIS domestic market, and the Embraer E-Jet family in the international sector.

Battle for survival

In the battle for survival, Sukhoi’s project must rely on its strengths: the involvement of high-profile Western risk-sharing partners such as Thales and Snecma; the project’s strong definition; and the well-regarded capabilities of the Sukhoi engineering team, coupled with low-paid Russian labour.

Altogether, over 1,200 people are working full-time on the RRJ’s airframe and systems, including 800 full-time employees of Sukhoi Civil Aircraft (SCAC), according to the division’s general director Victor Soubbotin. He adds that Sukhoi has invested more than $70 million of its own funds into RRJ development and plans to add over $100 million this year.

Sukhoi signed contracts at Le Bourget with several major Western suppliers –B/E Aerospace, Liebherr, Parker and Thales – for the development and supply of systems to equip the first four RRJ-95 flying prototypes, which are set for completion and flight testing in 2007.

Also unveiled was the full-scale RRJ flightdeck mock-up created in co-operation with Thales. Sukhoi Aviation Holding general director Mikhail Pogosyan and Thales president Denis Ranque signed a $120 million contract for the RRJ’s TopDeck avionics suite. The contract covers design, development, ground and flight tests, certification and deliveries of avionics for the four RRJ prototypes, Thales Aerospace chief executive Francois Quentin told Flight International.

Pogosyan says Sukhoi is also considering “best solutions” from Thales for avionics on new aircraft for the Russian armed forces, pointing out that the Su-27SMK on display was equipped with French-made navigation systems. The version for the Russian air force, dubbed Su-27SM, will keep some of them.

Pogosyan supports Thales plans to open an engineering centre in Moscow, providing that the bulk of work for the Russian defence ministry is located there. If so, Thales equipment will be used on Sukhoi and MiG fighters and trainers, both newly built and upgraded.

The RRJ will be equipped with the all-new SaM146 small turbofan being developed by the Power Jet joint venture between Snecma and NPO Saturn. This separate ?450 million ($550 million) effort is under way, with component testing already being carried out. While Snecma is aiming to begin tests of the test engine next year, it will not fully launch the SaM146 into production until the RRJ receives a bone fide firm order, says Power Jet chief Michel Dechelotte. “The project has to be commercially, rather than politically, driven. Final go-ahead is still to be passed,” he says.

Several airlines seen as potential RRJ customers say that while Sukhoi’s strategy and product vision are fine in theory, they are unhappy with prices and delivery schedules.

Airline concerns

“Most of the concerns are to do with the ability of Sukhoi’s military plants in Komsomolsk and Novosibirsk to produce the RRJ in a timely, cost-efficient way,” says SCAC commercial director Sveta Isaeva.

First flight of the baseline 95-seatRRJ-95LR is set for March 2007, with simultaneous Russian and European certification planned for April 2008. This means that Sukhoi’s previously stated “end of 2007” first delivery schedule for Sibir has slipped.

The prototype of the smaller RRJ-75 is due to fly in 2008, with deliveries beginning in 2009, provided it finds a customer. Soubbotin says that a stretched 110-seat version is also being evaluated, and a decision whether to launch that or the 60-seat “RRJ-60” is due next year.


Source: Flight International