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RECENTLY IT was revealed that launch customer Armavia will once again fly their Sukhoi Superjet, with the second plane on order also due to join the fleet. The Russian regional jet had entered service with the Armenian carrier in April 2011, but Sukhoi operations ceased four weeks after announcing the cancellation of the second aircraft on order in early July 2012. The airline explained that dispatch reliability was poor, the manufacturer responded that Armavia’s finances were to blame.

It may never be clear what brought about this crisis of confidence. It does, however, shine the spotlight on the rough service entry of one of Russian Aerospace’s most promising projects since those of the Soviet Union. In development as the RRJ for over a decade, the project held a distinct guarantee; to bring Russia back on the map of civil aircraft production on a global scale. Partnerships with Boeing, Snecma and Alenia Aeronautica as well as a European support system based in Venice solidified beliefs that this project had all the right ingredients to stand up to the competition.

It’s development marred by powerplant issues, Sukhoi announced delays for over two years, draining the program of much-needed confidence. Once in service, details began to emerge which painted the picture of a sub-standard aircraft. In-service reliability reflected it’s older wavering Soviet counterparts rather than modern competition in the form of Embraer’s E-Jets and Bombardier’s CRJ series.

Deliveries also seem to be falling behind schedule. Even fairly recent articles suggest that Gazpromavia, Kartika, UTair and Yakutia should have all joined Aeroflot and Armavia in flying the SSJ100 by now. Most of these airlines have yet to see their planes being built.

Arguably Sukhoi’s biggest sales victory, Interjet of Mexico holds orders for 20 SSJ100s. Originally due this year, first delivery is now tentatively scheduled for March 2013

While in no way related to delivery issues, the unfortunate crash during a demonstration flight in Indonesia undoubtedly hurt potential interest from more carriers. It is worth noting the parallels to Air France 296, an A320 demonstration flight which crashed in to the forest near the runway in Habsheim, France. In that case, the program was recoverable.

Sukhoi have yet to prove that they are a force to be reckoned with. Implementation of a firm delivery schedule and stricter quality control is necessary. With newer programs such as the larger MS-21 on the drawing board, future success will be limited if the development proves to be anything like that of Sukhoi’s so far. The promise of a modern Russian venture in commercial aviation has yet to be fulfilled.

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