09 May 2012

Indonesia: Crash of Sukhoi SuperJet 100 During Sales Presentation a Harsh Blow to The Kremlin's Export Aspirations

Just what they didn't need...

Sukhoi SuperJet 100

After $1.4B in development, successful presentation/flights at the 2011 Farnborough Air show, and even Russian domestic commercial service, the Sukhoi SuperJet 100 seemed to be moving along towards attaining the respect and cash-generating exports Putin was seeking when the Kremlin orchestrated Sukhoi's collaboration with Italy's Finmeccanica and other foreign suppliers (including Boeing). The $32M plane features a number of firsts for a Russian commercial airliner, such as fly-by-wire technology and even a stunning Pininfarina-designed business class.

Putin, Medvedev, and Berlusconi tour the SuperJet's cabin

Yet earlier today a new SuperJet 100 with 50 passengers aboard (Indonesian aircraft officials, Russian sales staff/crew/engineers, and journalists) appears to have fell out of the sky while on a short demonstration flight out of Jarkarta. Weather seems to be a factor in the crash, but regardless of the cause -except perhaps terrorism- it won't be bringing the aspiring exporter anything but hurt.

A shame for them, as the product seems a genuine quantum leap from the hardy yet crude, uncomfortable, and semi-safe commercial passenger aircraft the Soviet Union was infamous for. The remains of that industry collapsed in the economic chaos of the Yelstsin era, with former Soviet 'design bureaus' such as Yak, Ilyushin, and Sukhoi churning-out only military planes. By 2010, even the Russian airlines where running 75% Airbus, Boeing, and other imports.

Sukhoi SuperJet 100

The planned comeback in the domestic passenger-plane market (and simultaneous export offensive) was to be accomplished via two-pronged attack: first, the SuperJet 100 as an economical regional jet that seats up to 100 passengers, and powered by two Franco-Russian PowerJet engines. Then, the larger MS-21 is meant to make inroads against Boeing and Airbus.

Up until today's accident, the SuperJet 100 had 240 orders, with the only major airline stepping-up to the plate -Russian international carrier Aeroflot- 'encouraged' by the Kremlin to take their 30 planes, along with an option for 10 more. The company claims that if and when 200 orders are filled, Sukhoi will have broken-even on the project- indeed an substantial accomplishment. Yet after numerous delays, only a handful have been produced, engine certification being a major snag.

The Russians are still developing the Irkut MS-21 -'Airliner for the 21st Century'- a larger plane seating 150-212 that's intended to replace creaking Soviet fossils such as the Tu-154. Currently in the prototype stage, it was shown at Paris in shell/cabin mock-up form and is scheduled for deliveries in 2017...

Irkut MS-21

But there's awful lot of competition out there: not only is there Boeing and Airbus to contend with, but also quality product from Japan's Mitsubishi, Brazil's Embraer and Canada's Bombardier. And if they're planning to do it on price, they've got to consider China's profit-killing Comac now.

Prayers go out to the most unfortunate victims of today's SuperJet crash, including families and loved ones...

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