While the close involvement of Snecma in the SSJ programme is key not only to the aircraft's technical success, but also for its credibility in Western markets, there are compelling reasons for the French engine company's participation in the SSJ programme.

"We have always wanted to have leadership of a commercial engine programme - this is something we couldn't do with [Snecma's CFM International partner] GE," says Snecma vice-president for commercial engines Jean-Pierre Cojan.

Snecma has long been interested in the Russian market. It has been working with PowerJet partner NPO Saturn, with an agreement to make CFM56 parts in Russia through joint venture VolgAero since 1997, long pre-dating their 2001 agreement to team up for the SaM146.

As well as the macroeconomic factors that make a Russian footprint so desirable for Western companies, cost is a key incentive, says PowerJet chief executive and former Snecma development director in Russia Michel Déchelotte. "If you're a challenger against well-established players you have to be better on price. We had the idea to go east - Russia, China or India. The RRJ looked credible and was to be built by a credible company. The right solution was to team up with a Russian company."

Cojan declines to specify how much the SaM146 is costing to develop, but puts the investment between the $500 million required to develop a business jet engine and the $1 billion for an engine on the scale of the Boeing 787's Rolls-Royce Trent 1000. "Half the money is being invested in Russia with Russians and you can go further with a dollar in Russia," he points out.

When it was first mooted five years ago, the SSJ was seen as the first step in Snecma's "diversification strategy", Cojan says. He estimates the programme could account for 15-20% of total peak turnover when mature - a level comparable to the returns from a business jet engine family.

The structure of the PowerJet venture is based closely on that of CFM, although Snecma has a role closer to that of GE in the CFM venture. Déchelotte describes the collaboration as "a successful blend of Russian costs and Western reputation/know-how as well as successful CFM experience and new technologies".

New facilities including a training centre and warehouses in France as well as in Moscow will ensure a complete maintenance package is offered to airlines. Additional warehouse facilities in the USA and Asia will also be set up.

Source: Flight International