Russia's beleaguered Tupolev Tu-204SM programme is struggling to avoid total derailment after lessor Ilyushin Finance, its key supporter, withdrew its interest.

But United Aircraft president Mikhail Pogosyan insists that the twinjet remains a top priority for the Ulyanovsk-based airframer Aviastar.

Ilyushin Finance had been intending to place 44 Tu-204SMs with carrier Red Wings, the sole customer, but the entire deal appears shaky after the lessor's general director, Alexander Rubtsov, said planned funding changes made the project complex and "too risky".

 © United Aircraft

The modernised Tu-204SM prototype is undergoing tests after first flying in December 2010 and Pogosyan remains optimistic over the programme.

He says the government and United Aircraft have invested much in the Tu-204SM effort over the past three years, and adds: "I will not see a situation where investment becomes a critical point for this project.

"UAC has done some work on reduction of manufacturing costs and works further with vendors to reduce these costs. We will have to convince the airlines that the modernised aircraft fits well into their plans."

But Tu-204 production is virtually non-existent. Aviastar's plan for first half of this year involves completing only one new aircraft - the second Tu-240SM prototype - while later in 2011 it will rework two Tu-204s for ATU, complete two new Tu-204-100s and two -300s, and another -204SM test aircraft.

United Aircraft is still talking to airline customers over the type. "I hope we will find a solution, a balanced one that makes every participant in the project happy," says Pogosyan.

Source: Flight International