Russia's new regional jet, the Sukhoi Superjet 100, just passed an important milestone with the handover of the first aircraft to Western customer Mexican Interjet last month. The manufacturer's next goals include higher production rates and amplified modifications.

Interjet is considered to be a crucial client for SSJ 100 in as much as the aircraft was previously only delivered to airlines in Russia, the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and Southeast Asia. The Mexican carrier ordered 20 of the aircraft marketed by Superjet International (SJI), a joint venture between Alenia Aermacchi and Sukhoi. Interjet opted for a 93-seat all-economy-class configuration. The second aircraft is ready for delivery now, and the third is being customized at SJI facilities in Venice, Italy. SJI CEO Nazario Cauceglia says Interjet is expected to receive eight aircraft by year-end and the other 12 in 2014.

In spite of the first Western export success, Alenia and Sukhoi are disputing the terms of the joint venture. Alenia cites longstanding inefficiencies and is threatening to withdraw from the project unless these are addressed. The Russians are willing to negotiate.

Sukhoi Civil Aircraft Co. (SCAC) President Andrey Kalinovsky says the company has addressed the problems that beset Aeroflot and other customers when the aircraft was introduced. According to Kalinovsky, 40-45% of the detected malfunctions were airframe-related, with supplier issues contributing a similar number of glitches. And operator errors were the cause of around 10% of the issues. He says the next step is to tackle the ramp-up of the assembly line.

The manufacturer aims to roll out 26 aircraft this year, double last year's production. Ten aircraft have been assembled in the first six months and 16 more are to be manufactured by year-end, says Kalinovsky, adding that the number of assembled airframes does not equal the number of deliveries. SCAC plans to increase the production rate to three aircraft per month by year-end. In addition to the “green” aircraft for SJI, Sukhoi has deliveries planned to Aeroflot, Lao Central and Sky Aviation this year. Two ex-Armavia aircraft are ready to be shipped to Moskovia.

Gazpromavia, a subsidiary of Russia's gas giant Gazprom, is a new customer and will become the first operator of the extended-range SSJ 100. Gazpromavia airline ordered 10 aircraft in 2011.

The first extended-range prototype—which began testing in February—is designed to fly 4,572 km (2,470 mi.) using more powerful SaM146 1S18 engines, versus the basic version's range of 3,048 km. Kalinovsky expects the certification process will be completed by the end of July when the first production SSJ 100/95 LR will be ready for delivery. The LR variant will receive a supplemental type certificate from the CIS-wide AR MAK safety agency, and European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) certification will be sought when an order from Europe is received.

The increased output requires a realigning of the supply chain. The program will maintain two customization centers—one for Western customers at SJI in Venice, the other in Ulyanovsk, Russia. The number of paint shops has recently been increased with the addition of a facility in Ostrava, Czech Republic, which belongs to Eirtech Aviation. Eirtech painted the second SSJ 100 for Yakutia Airlines in December 2012. Kalinovsky says that the companies have a long-term agreement and the Ostrava-based facility will paint all Aeroflot aircraft. Tail No. 95029 will be the first airframe to be processed and is due to be completed this month. The aircraft of other Russian and Asian clients will continue to to be painted in Ulyanovsk.

Eirtech is not the only new partner in the SSJ 100 program. SCAC has signed agreements with some new foreign suppliers to support the increased production rates. A new Russian supplier will also work on the first VIP passenger cabin for the SSJ 100. SCAC expects to unveil this variant at the MAKS 2013 air show near Moscow, at the end of August. This will not be a full Sukhoi Business Jet variant with increased range, but a light-configuration airframe that will show the advantages of the SSJ 100 VIP cabin. This variant is to be certified and delivered to an undisclosed government customer by the end of the year.

According to Kalinovsky, the assembly line in Komsomolsk-on-Amur is fully booked until the end of 2014 with the current order backlog of 179 aircraft. The company is working on contracts for deliveries in 2015. At last month's Paris air show, it signed pacts with two leasing companies. Russian Ilyushin Finance Co. placed a preliminary order for 15 SSJ 100 basic and five long-range variants for customers in Southeast Asia and the Middle East. Bahrain-based AeroLease signed a letter of Intent for SSJ 100s. SCAC is negeotiation with Chinese airlines to enable SSJ 100 sales to the Chinese market. The Americas are on SCAC's radar as well.