Superjet International is confident that anticipated European certification for the Sukhoi Superjet 100 in the first half of this year will ignite the touch paper for several orders from Western carriers, despite the apparent loss of ItAli Airlines.

ItAli, which became the first Western customer for the Sukhoi Superjet 100 in 2007, has been dropped from Superjet International's firm orderbook, as has Swiss lessor Asset Management Advisors (AMA). ItAli placed a firm order for 10 Superjet 100s plus 10 options during the 2007 Farnborough air show, becoming the Western launch customer for the Russian-built regional jet.

However, the order does not appear in Superjet International's latest list of firm orders. Superjet International says the order is "on hold", adding: "ItAli Airlines, like many others in the mature market, faced some difficulties and is now in the process of establishing itself with new management." AMA, which had signed for five Superjets, is also absent.

In addition to this, a 2009 letter of intent from Malev for 15 Superjet 100s and 15 options is now "frozen" following a change in management at the Hungarian flag carrier, leaving the Western airline customer base for the aircraft relatively threadbare at this stage. But this is something that Superjet International, with a new chief executive at the helm, aims to change.

The Venice-based joint venture between Alenia Aeronautica and Sukhoi, which was established to promote and sell the jets to the Western world, had its hopes of a deal with its home airline Alitalia crushed late last year when the Italian carrier plumped instead for 20 Embraer regional jets.

Since then, Superjet International has replaced its chief executive, Alessandro Franzoni, with Carlo Logli, the former senior vice-president, product unit UAV and special airborne systems at Alenia Aeronautica. Logli will be charged with boosting Western orders for the Powerjet SaM146-equipped regional jet.

The new chief executive acknowledges: "We have faced a cautious approach from some European majors because they like to see an aircraft certified first." But he believes a European customer will be secured by the end of this year. Once European certification happens, Logli believes his task will become easier. "After we get European certification, this will kill off the last uncertainty at airlines in Europe," he says.

Russian certification of the Superjet 100 is expected to take place before the end of January, with European Aviation Safety Agency certification expected in the first half of 2011. Sukhoi Holdings general director Mikhail Pogosyan says that by the end of 2010 the Russian manufacturer "had finalised the full scope of certification testing" and now "only the paperwork remains".

Logli says he expects US certification "a few months after" that of EASA, adding that, while US airline customers will definitely be pursued, "I would bet on a European customer first".

There are 170 firm orders for the Superjet 100, largely tipped towards leasing companies. The challenge for Superjet International is to tip the balance more towards airline customers. "I like leasing companies - they gave us some big orders in the beginning and they trusted in us. The problem now is for us to complement this with some airlines," says Logli.

Listed in the firm orderbook is a deal for 20 Superjet 100s from an undisclosed customer, which Superjet International alludes to as being a Western company. Logli says the identity of the unnamed party will be revealed during this year's Paris air show in June.

Source: Flight International