Sukhoi's new regional airliner Superjet 100 to take on Embraer, Bombardier

The new 98-seater regional passenger plane will be rolled out later this week, take its first flight by the end of this year, and start commercial operations by end-2008. By Ashwin Tombat

This week, Russian aircraft manufacturer Sukhoi rolls out its first modern commercial passenger airliner for the global market, the Superjet 100. Sukhoi is better known as the former Soviet Union's largest warplane maker. Its Su-27 fighter family, famous for its breathtaking 'Cobra' manoeuvre at air shows, could match Boeing's F-15 Eagle. A modernised version, the Su-30, has found customers in many countries, including the Indian Air Force (IAF).

The civilian Superjet is a 78- to 98-seat regional airliner developed in co-operation with with major American and European aviation corporations, including Boeing, Snecma, Thales, Messier Dowty, Liebherr Aerospace, and Honeywell. The new civil plane will be unveiled at a Sukhoi military factory at Komsomolsk-on-Amur in eastern Russia on 26 September. Its first flight was to be in September, but has been delayed for a month or two.

The foreign helping hand
Boeing's involvement in the development of the Superjet is seen by analysts as a largely symbolic one. Actually, the American company is keen to access titanium from Russia for its next generation of jetliners. But French and Italian firms have invested heavily in the project.

Regional jets are an $8 billion market, presently dominated by Brazil's Embraer and Canada's Bombardier. It is relatively small compared with the $60 billion spent annually on bigger jets made by Boeing and Airbus.

Sukhoi's new plane is also up against Chinese and Japanese firms that are developing regional jets. It is a market that affords entry without having to spend the colossal sums needed to challenge Airbus or Boeing.

Already in demand
The plane has already secured orders. Armenia has become the first republic in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) to order Superjets. Sukhoi and the Armenian air company Armavia have signed a firm contract for purchase of two Superjet-95LRs with an improved flying range. Two more are registered as a purchase option, in a $55million to $60 million deal being financed by Vneshtorgbank, Russia's bank of foreign trade.