Tupolev has begun an airworthiness certification programme for its modernised Tu-204SM twin-jet after completing its post-assembly trials.

On 28 April, the prototype aircraft, serial number 64150, arrived at the Zhukovsky flight testing centre near Moscow from Ulyanovsk.

It had undergone initial functionality tests for four months after leaving the final assembly workshop at Aviastar on 28 December.

Tupolev vice-president for development projects Valery Solozobov said the certification programme is intended to verify its compliance with Russian AP-25 airworthiness rules.

"This only suggests receiving an addendum to the Tu-204-100 type certificate because the Tu-204SM, for all its novelty, is not a new aircraft type in its own right," he said.

Under the contract with United Aircraft, a comprehensive test campaign involving around 400 sorties and 800 flight hours is to be completed in November.

"The Tu-204SM is the first Tupolev aircraft to have a two-member cockpit crew," said Solozobov. "This is due to a new avionics suite, of which 90% is supplied by domestic manufacturers. Checking it will account for the bulk of trials."

The aircraft is also equipped with enhanced Aviadvigatel PS-90A2 engines and a new auxiliary power unit. An additional four examples are nearing completion at Aviastar.

"Two of them are slated to join the certification programme shortly and the other two will be fitted out under customer specifications," said Solozobov.

Tupolev is finalising negotiations with the leasing arm of Vnesheconombank, VEB Lizing, about supplying a batch of Tu-204SMs, with an agreement expected to be signed in May.

Following the government recommendation, Vnesheconombank's governing board in March endorsed a $1.85 billion loan to build 44 of the type, tentatively for Moscow-based carrier Red Wings.

Subsequently, leasing company Ilyushin Finance announced it was pulling out of the project and suggested that VEB-Lizing assume full responsibility for funding it.

"We're hammering out the question of how to meet customer requirements, especially regarding after-sales support," said Solozobov, indicating that Tupolev has set up a taskforce, headed by Andrei Grishin, to provide total care for its products throughout their service life.

"They are in constant touch with all suppliers to ensure input quality and a flawless response to client needs. We put it bluntly - it may be our last chance to remain in this business."

Source: Air Transport Intelligence news