SUKHOI'S RRJ TO OVERTAKE ITS FIGHTERS

    MOSCOW, November 26 (RIA Novosti military commentator Viktor Litovkin) - There have been interesting reports from Indo Defense 2004, an international arms expo in Jakarta. General Sudrajat Hakim, one of heads of Indonesia's military, told journalists that his country would buy eight Sukhoi Su-30MK fighters from Russia by the end of the year in a $250 million contract. Apart from Indonesia, the Sukhoi aircraft corporation sells warplanes to China, India, Vietnam and Malaysia, and is therefore the main military aircraft supplier to Southeast Asia.

    Sukhoi unveiled the fifth stage of the Russian Regional Jet (RRJ) program shortly before Indo Defense 2004. Sukhoi General Director Mikhail Pogosyan said Sukhoi's technical council, which includes Boeing and Snecma, decided to mass-produce RRJ planes.

    This means that the preliminary RRJ design and the 3-D model are already complete. Material and equipment suppliers have been chosen, Sukhoi has contracts for the delivery of the first 50 passenger airliners and RRJ aircraft are certified in Russia and the EU. A post-sale support plan, a training program and servicing program have been approved for the airliners as well. The next design stage is ready to begin and the planes will be assembled at Sukhoi's plants in Komsomolsk-on-Amur and Novosibirsk.

    Mr. Pogosyan said production would start in the first quarter of 2005 and the plane's first test flight should occur in the third quarter of 2006.

    "The technical council's decision is crucial for our program," he said, "because we are now starting the production of planes intended for tests. I am confident that this program has the necessary potential to become the primary product of the Russian aerospace industry, meets the requirements of the global market and has an impressive export potential. It gives Russia the unique opportunity to assert itself on the civilian aviation market."

    The 95-seat RRJ aircraft that is currently being assembled in Komsomolsk-on-Amur and Novosibirsk is unique. Its highly efficient engines and modern equipment give it a range of 3,050-4,495km. The plane's exceptionally comfortable interior was shown at the Farnborough air show near London last summer, where a model of the plane's cabin was exhibited. The plane incorporated the international aircraft industry's best achievement.

    Thales provided the avionics, Snecma and Saturn provided the engine, Liebherr provided the air conditioning and worked with Voskhod on the remote control systems, Messier Dowty developed the landing gear, Intertechnique provided the fuel system, Hamilton Sundstrand worked on the electrical system, B/E Aerospace designed the cockpit and cabin interior, Honeywell and Salyut designed the auxiliary power systems and Ipeco provided the seats.

    The Sukhoi management carefully chose well-known suppliers to help them introduce the plane on the world market. Sukhoi's RRJ has to compete with many other regional aircraft programs including the Tu-334, the Russian-Ukrainian An-148, Brazil's Embraer, Canada's Bombardier and even China's ERJ.

    Some of these planes have not flown yet, not all have been certified, and several do not have state support like the RRJ does. However, competition is competition. And to beat its competitors, the RRJ must have better performance specifications and fuel efficiency and be more comfortable. Large aircraft producers and users must provide adequate support. Consequently, Sukhoi can provide various commercial incentives that will make the RRJ program attractive. The company has accomplished this objective.

    Recently, there was an interesting development in the plans to introduce the RRJ on the market. The Brazilian government said that it would purchase Su-35 fighters from Russia in exchange for the purchase of Brazil's Embraer, apparently by Aeroflot. This deal would be very unprofitable for Sukhoi, which would like Embraer factories to assemble Sukhoi fighters but wants Russia to get Brazilian meat and coffee rather than aircraft in exchange.

    The estimated cost of the RRJ program is $600 million, and the estimated sales is $10 billion. Experts believe that the global market will absorb nearly 5,500 of these small, relatively inexpensive and easy-to-fly planes within the next 20 years. Batch production will begin in 2007 and CIS countries are expected to purchase about 300 RRJ aircraft. Europe, North America and Southeast Asia are expected to buy about 400 RRJ planes. Sukhoi hopes that RRJ sales will reach the same level as its fighter plane exports, or more than $1.5 billion a year. Mr. Pogosyan said $70 million had already been spent on the development of the RRJ, but that Sukhoi hoped to recoup its expenses and make a profit in the near future.

    Sukhoi and Sibir airlines have signed a contract for the delivery of 50 RRJ planes and commercial proposals for Utair Airlines and Pulkovo Airlines have also been drafted. Sukhoi, Air France, Iberia and other European companies have reached verbal agreements on the sale of RRJ aircraft. Sukhoi management would like to involve India's HAL aircraft company, which now assembles licensed Su-30MKI, in the RRJ program. Sukhoi hopes this arrangement will facilitate expanded RRJ exports, making it possible to overcome the tough competition on the global aviation market.

    It is unclear whether India will accept this business proposition. According to some reports, HAL is interested in this program. But it is unclear whether the Indian government will support them.. President Putin will visit India soon and present the offer to the Indian leadership.

    The RRJ planes have the potential to become just as popular as Sukhoi's fighters in the next several years.

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