Sukhoi’s will soon roam European airspace. The company primarily known for its world class fighter planes has again set to the skies, but this time with a civil aviation airliner: The Sukhoi Superjet 100. The SSJ100 will be pivotal for the Russian civilian aircraft industry for new Russian civilian aircraft are already in advanced stages of development.
The airplane industry might well be the most heavily regulated and politicized sectors of the economy. Before any aircraft takes to the air it undergoes rigorous testing, must comply with a whole batch of safety certifications. On top of that, due to the high costs of an airplane and maintaining an aircraft industry, any country prefers to see its own planes being sold over those of other countries.
By moving on to the civil aviation market, Sukhoi ventured itself into a new market where it has little to no experience. Futhermore the market is dominated by oligopolies with established positions like Boeing, Airbus, Embraer. Together with the high costs of production and development Sukhoi found itself in a high risk market.
For its construction and development Sukhoi incorperated a non-Russian strategy: it sought help from abroad. Using foreign engines, using expertise in the selling and re-selling of boeing, painting in Italy and many more. The purpose for this strategy is two fold, borrow from the safety reputation of established western producers and at the same time borrow on their experience.
The start of the SSJ100 was rough. Who was willing to buy a Russian airplane? In an article of The New York Times Les Weal analyst of aircraft safety put it clearly: “Historically, Russian aircraft have an image that will take a long time to address (…) It would take a huge leap of faith for an airline to turn to a newcomer.” Already the aircraft was experiencing malfunctions, the first Airliner to use the plane, That, however, was back in 2011.
Enter 2012. On May 9th the new SSJ100 would take of for a demonstration flight. Aboard was a representation for potential buyers of the aircraft. Despite the flight, no planes would be sold that day: The aircraft crashed. Amongst the 50 or so people aboard, there would be no survivors.
The pilot flying the plane had over 10 000 flying hours on his name, a huge amount. Initial conclusions that were therefor drawn from the crash was that the plane was unsafe. The investigation into the crash would eventually find the pilot and the air traffic controller to blame. They both neglected to take into account the surrounding mountains in combination with the low altitude of the aircraft. When the altitude warning indicator was heard in the cocpit, the pilots were too late to respond. The plane literally crashed into a mountain.
Despite nothing pointed blame towards the Sukhoi airliner, the damage was dealt. And the influence of a good safety reputation is of big importance in the aircraft and airliner industry. For example, very recently Air Malaysia renamed its company as a result of the damage the company had suffered due to the consecutive accidents with the MH370 and MH17.
The next when months proved to be disastrous for the sale of the aircraft. The resulting financial problems that hit the company would not help either with the sale of the aircraft. As Richard Teal, Vice-President an industry analysis company, would explain to The Moscow Times: “It’s a good jet. [But at the same time, big Western airlines] wondered if the company would go under and leave them with an orphaned product.”
The Russian state would eventually step in in order to save the company. With record amounts of investment, the state would save the company. Would appoint a new director being the deputy minister of industry and would replace most of the managers. The aircraft was ready to take off.
The Sukhoi Superjet was deemed to critical to be let down. The aircraft industry is a strategic sector with gives a good representation of the overall level of development of a country. Hence, the SSJ100 will be Russia’s presentation card for the rest of the world. Also the SSJ100 will be pivotal for the new generation of airliners Russia will produce. Any future Russian airliner to be developed will lean heavily on the SSJ100. Any experience gained in construction and selling the aircraft will benefit new Russian airliners. Also, any new airliner will expand of the reputation the Superjet makes for itself. Hence the project will be critical for the development of the Russian civil aviation industry as a whole.
Despite the rough start Sukoi found itself in, things have seemed to have changed for the better. Mexican aircraft company Interjet, which has already been operating the plane for several years has indicated to be quite contempt with the 30 aircraft it is operating. And since january this year, Sukhoi has found its first European costumer, the Irish airline CityJet. Only this January, CityJet has ordered its first set of planes. Just previous month, in May 2016, the first Superjet was handed over to CityJet.
Now rumors are already on going that Air France might be interested in leasing several planes, via CityJet. It is jet to be seen whether these rumors have any base in reality, but if it has, Sukhoi and the Russian aircraft industry will further establish itself on the airliner market.
New projects are already nearing the end of their development and Russia will soon see its second commercial airliner completely developed and build after the collapse of the Soviet Union take to the air. Presenting the MC-21.
Slowly, Russia seems to establish itself on the civil aviation industry and by doing so further shows the world that its economy is slowly developing away from its dependency of the the oil and weapons industry. Though, not there yet, Russian planes over European skies indicate a new era of Russian aviation and hers economy.