Russia to offer up to sixteen Sukhoi Superjet 100’s to Pakistan.

Moscow and Islamabad look to speed up economic cooperation

Islamabad and Moscow have recently seen a rise in economic cooperation in terms of military equipment. Now the horizons are about to be widened. Russia is interested in developing it’s stakes in the Pakistani economy. A 64 member high level delegation from Russia was present in Pakistan for four days to discuss just that. And as a result, the largest deal in bilateral history has been made, worth billions of dollars. Russian companies are interested in the energy sector and the deal includes a gas pipeline, a railway line and military equipment. But the highlight for us Aviation Geeks is this: Russia is also investing in the aviation sector.

In the outcome of the Pak-Russia Inter-Governmental Commission on Trade, Economic, Scientific Technical Cooperation, Russia has offered Pakistan up to sixteen of their indigenous advanced commercial airliner, the Sukhoi Superjet 100 or SSJ100, as reported by Sputnik.

What’s the Superjet 100?

The brainchild of the United Aircraft Corporation and Sukhoi, the SSJ100 is a narrow-body, single aisle, twin engine regional jet. It first flew in 2008 and entered commercial service in 2011. So it goes without saying, this airplane is new. It can seat up to 98 passengers in a standard configuration. It is powered by two PowerJet SaM146 turbofan engines.

How will it be used?

The Superjet 100, technically competes with the likes of the Airbus A220 or Embraer ERJ-195. So it is best to be used on regional routes. PIA might be able to use it on the domestic sector or even some Middle Eastern destinations. The Russian officials said that the route analysis for the SSJ100 was already done in 2012 for Pakistan International Airlines. Mentioning about the Russian offer of SSJ-100 aircraft to PIA, the officials said that the SuperJet 100’s will be available on direct purchase and lease to purchase options and can be positioned immediately on wet lease to meet the immediate operational requirements of PIA.

How good is the SSJ 100?

While the introduction of any new airplane in PIA’s fleet is welcome news, we have to look at how good it actually is. Or rather, what problems it carries.

Firstly, the technical requirements. Introducing a whole new type of an aircraft means whole new maintenance plans. Equipment and tools need to be purchased and all the relevant technicians and engineers trained. Then there is the question and cost of pilot training on the new equipment too. Is PIA actually ready for that?

Secondly and most importantly, the Sukhoi Superjet 100 has not really been popular outside of Russia. While it has got some success in its native land, it has been overshadowed abroad by its rivals which I mentioned earlier. The highly efficient and game changing Airbus A220 and the up comer and popular Embraer 195. In comparison, it is cheaper, but at a cost. And that cost is a lack of support network. Aircraft constantly need spares and equipment, and Sukhoi has not established a support system as it’s competitors. This isn’t just speculation, airlines actually have suffered from this.

The SSJ100 Cockpit

In September of 2018, Mexican low cost carrier InterJet started phasing out it’s SuperJets after only five years of operation because of the longer ground times waiting from spares. They were also reportedly paid $40 million in compensation by Sukhoi. (Source)

In February of 2019, the last European operator to have the SSJ100 also sold it back to the manufacturer. The operator was CityJet. In simple words, an aircraft on the ground does not make money, and the SSJ100 needs to be grounded for longer periods due to the poor support system by Sukhoi.

Other than that, it’s an airplane with a good safety record. A fatal crash of an SSJ100 occurred in Indonesia during a demonstration flight which was clearly pilot error. Other crashes also have been cases of human error rather than technical faults. In 2016, all SSJ100’s were grounded for some metal fatigue issues but they were soon inspected and cleared.

The verdict?

Again, with the state of Pakistan International Airlines, any new airplane is welcome. But will it be a blessing or will it become a liability? This depends on how PIA and Sukhoi handle it. Considering the geographic location of Pakistan, Sukhoi might be able to fix it’s past mistakes and provide good customer support. Sukhoi is also aiming at India and wants to sell SSJ100’s there as well. If PIA gets this opportunity, they should avail it. Because there is no way in the near future that they’re getting A220’s or ERJ-195’s.

READ MORE: How does Emirates intend to use the Airbus A350 XWB?

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