If there is one project the Russian aerospace industry needs to succeed in the international market, it is the , which is about to enter service with Mexican low-cost carrier Interjet.
“We cannot fail, which is why we're putting so much into the Interjet launch,” says Superjet International CEO Nazario Cauceglia. A team of Sukhoi Civil Aircraft Co. (SCAC) engineers has been in Toluca, the capital of Mexico State, for more than a month, training Interjet maintenance personnel, and SCAC is establishing what it describes as an extensive SSJ 100 spare-parts inventory in both Toluca and Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to support the Mexican carrier's services.
Interjet has added two SSJ 100s to its operating fleet of 39and will put them into domestic service this month.
Superjet International, the marketing and sales joint venture of Sukhoi and, is confident Western airlines will quickly warm to the SSJ 100 once it is proven in the Mexican market because it contains “state-of-the-art Western system technology,” says Cauceglia.
SCAC and Superjet International are pinning their Western sales strategy largely on Interjet demonstrating the aircraft's viability. “Superjet is an international project,” SCAC President Andrey Kalinovskiy notes. “From the beginning, the project was aimed for more than the domestic [Russian] market. That's why entering the Mexican market is so important—because this is America, andand have always prevailed in America.”
In addition to Alenia, other Western aerospace companies involved in the project comprise: France's, a partner in the Powerjet joint venture (with Russia's NPO Saturn) that produces the SSJ 100's SaM146 engines; , provider of the fly-by-wire avionics; and , which builds the auxiliary power unit. has served as a consultant.
Superjet sales efforts were likely dampened by the May 2012 crash of an SSJ 100 demonstration flight near Jakarta that killed all 45 onboard, including four crew members. Indonesian authorities have blamed the accident on human error, reporting that the aircraft's terrain-awareness and warning system (TAWS) was switched off by the pilot. Indonesian officials determined the pilot mistakenly believed several TAWS alerts were inadvertent.
“The result of the investigation showed very clearly there was no connection between the design of the aircraft and the cause of the accident,” Cauceglia says. “We have not suffered, and we will not suffer, any [sales] consequences from the crash. . . . The market is waiting to see how well we perform [in Mexico]. What is important is aircraft performance.”
“When you hear 'Russian airplane,' it's natural to have doubts for various reasons,” Interjet CEO Miguel Aleman Magnani conceded at an unveiling ceremony for the carrier's first SSJ 100 at its maintenance hangar in Toluca last month.
But Aleman Magnani asserts that the spotty safety record of Russian civil aircraft is mostly owing to the fact that so many carriers have operated older, Soviet-era aircraft much too long. “At the beginning of the Cold War, Russia sold a lot planes to allies and then, after 40 years, those planes were crashing,” he tells Aviation Week. “But they were not crashing because they were Russian; they were crashing because they were very old.”
Interjet was founded in 2005 and is 100%-owned by the prominent Aleman family (Miguel Aleman Valdes, the Interjet CEO's grandfather, was Mexico's president in 1946-52). It has 18 more SSJs on firm order, all of which are slated for delivery by early 2015, with 10 options.
The carrier chose the SSJ 100 to expand connectivity in the growing Mexican market, having deemed its A320s and the 40 A320NEOs it has on order ill-suited for many of the shorter domestic routes it wants to serve. “We have a conviction that this country needs more connections than it has today,” Interjet Director General Jose Luis Garza says. “With the Superjet, we will reach cities that today have average or below-average service.”
Interjet's SSJ 100s are configured with 93 seats in a single-class layout. The airline plans to operate the SSJ 100 on 10 domestic routes from Mexico City, starting with flights to Torreon, followed by another 10 domestic routes from Toluca. By early 2015, it plans to launch international SSJ 100 flights to Miami and Central America.
“Only 5% of Mexicans were flying [annually] when we started in 2005,” Aleman Magnani notes. “Today, 15% of Mexicans are flying and the market can easily grow to 35%.” Interjet expects to carry 10 million passengers this year, which would be a 24% increase over 2012. It has an estimated 28% share of the Mexican air passenger market.
Superjet International received a boost last week from the Russian Interstate Aviation Committee's certification of the long-range version of the regional jet (SSJ 100LR), which extends its maximum range to 4,578 km (2,845 mi.) from 3,048 km.
Over the next 20 years, SCAC aims to produce and sell 800-1,000 SSJ 100s. The type has accumulated more than 20,000 flight hours since entering commercial service in April 2011, all in Southeast Asia and Russia.
Kalinovskiy says there are more potential customers in the Americas for the SSJ 100. “At the moment, everyone is waiting to see the Superjet enter service with Interjet. All of the other [potential] customers are watching what Interjet does.”