SSJ100: Overcoming the Sukhoi Superjet 100’s operational issues

ssj100 jet

The SSJ100 entered a challenging market and faced several operational issues but it remains a nimble next-generation airliner. Benjamin Pavie, analyst at ICF, provides an outlook.

Launched in 2000, the Sukhoi Superjet 100 (SSJ100) aircraft is a product of a joint venture between the Russian aircraft manufacturer Sukhoi and the Italian aerospace company Leonardo. It is a new-technology, fly-by-wire regional aircraft powered by two PowerJet SaM146 engines, jointly designed and produced by Snecma Moteurs and NPO Saturn.

A significant degree of western componentry is incorporated in the type representing the highest degree of Western involvement yet enjoyed for a Russian aircraft. Seating up to 98 passengers in a five-abreast configuration, the SSJ100 is available in basic (95B) and long range (95LR) variants, serving short to medium range routes between 1,645-2,470 nm.

ssj100: Sukhoi Superjet 100
Reportedly, Interjet will phase out some SSJ100s

An earlier 78-seat SSJ100-75 variant was dropped due to a lack of market interest. Configuration developments since entry into service include winglets, branded ‘sabrelets’, and cabin densification to as many as 108 seats.

The Sukhoi Civil Aircraft Company (SCAC) is responsible for domestic and CIS sales and for some markets in Asia. The aircraft is marketed in European, North American and other mature western markets by Superjet International, a joint venture between Leonardo (formerly Finmeccanica holding a 51per cent stake and Sukhoi the 49per cent balance).

However, in 2017, Leonardo reduced its stake-holding to 10per cent, and Sukhoi now holds a 90per cent investment. EASA certification was awarded in February 2012, following Russia’s IAC AR approval in 2011. Launch customer Armavia received the first SSJ100-95B aircraft in April 2011, while the LR variant entered service with Gazpromavia in March 2014.

SSJ100-95B current and future market outlook

As of October 2018, the SSJ100 has garnered 64 net orders, of which 51 are for the SSJ100-95B baseline variant and a further 13 for the SSJ100-95LR long range variant. Some 137 aircraft have been delivered to 14 operators, while 23 aircraft are parked.

Russian operators include Aeroflot, Center-South Airlines, Gazpromavia and Yakutia, while aircraft in Western operations include Mexican operator Interjet and Ireland-based CityJet.

The SSJ100 has entered a crowded 70 to 100-seat regional market segment, already occupied by multiple types of varying commercial success, including current offerings in the form of Bombardier’s CRJ series and the Embraer’s E-Jets, with further competition on the horizon from Mitsubishi’s MRJ and the COMAC ARJ21 aircraft.

ssj100: Sukhoi Superjet 100
The SSJ100 production line

At a domestic level, the SSJ100 competes with the fledgling Antonov An-148 and -158 programmes, and is intended to replace ageing Tupolev Tu-134 and Yakovlev Yak-42 fleets. Internationally, the SSJ100 can also be considered a replacement candidate for BAe146 and Avro RJ aircraft along with ageing Fokker 100s.

Despite a challenging market environment, the SSJ100 offers a mix of western engine design support, avionics and ancillary systems, and a product and global logistics support network developed with partner Leonardo.

Competitive operating cost performance and keen pricing relative to its western competition have led to some degree of market success, although the bulk of orders are still expected to come from Eastern Europe, Russia and the CIS States, with added support from some Asia-Pacific operators.

Deliveries to date have been dominated by CIS operators or lessors. Further impetus to sales is provided by an appreciably lower acquisition cost. Although the current list price for the baseline version is noted by Sukhoi at $50 million, early sales to launch customer Aeroflot were supposedly made in the $18 to $19 million range, well below Bombardier and Embraer pricing for competing types.

ssj100: Sukhoi Superjet 100
Chart Value Briefing

The ability to reduce to such discounted pricing levels and build commercially viable sales volumes will be highly dependent on western market acceptance, particularly by potential operators, and on improved production and operating cost efficiencies.

Broad acceptance by western lessors appears unlikely at this juncture. With Russia subject to currency devaluation, falling commodity prices, and Western trade sanctions, Sukhoi has proposed replacing Western componentry with Russian equivalents, thereby reducing unit cost by around $2.5 million. While yet to eventuate, such a move would reduce SSJ100 attractiveness in Western markets.

Western market penetration has been curtailed with the demise in 2014 of Sky Aviation, an Indonesian operator, and by well-documented operational issues with the type at Interjet which, reportedly, intends to phase out at least some of its fleet in favour of larger Airbus A320 aircraft.

ICF believes there is significant risk associated with acquiring and operating the SSJ100. Without large levels of support from the OEM, it is unlikely a significant number of sales will be realised, and global market acceptance will be muted.

The majority of future sales are expected from domestic sources, with longer-term international prospects diminishing with the introduction of Embraer’s E2 and Mitsubishi’s MRJ jets and their more fuel-efficient Pratt & Whitney GTF engines. Most of the SSJ100 fleet is based in the CIS states.

ssj100: Sukhoi Superjet 100
SSJ100 cabin interior

Among operators outside of Russia, Interjet is presently restructuring its SSJ100 fleet although it maintains an order of eight aircraft. CityJet operates a fleet of  seven active aircraft while Armavia (Armenia) and Sky Aviation (Indonesia) ceased operation in 2013 and 2014 respectively. Their SSJ100 fleets have remained stored since then, according to CAPA.

Lessor support for the SSJ100 fleet is provided by several Russian entities, including State Transport Leasing Company (GTLK); Vnesheconombank (VEB), a Russian bank used by the government to support and develop the economy, and Sberbank Leasing, a leading leasing company in Russia financing aircraft, ships and rolling stock.

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