The Sukhoi Superjet 100: Two Months Later

An Amazing Superjet Photo Op
A plane with a lot of attention: the SSJ-100

The New York Times is optimistic, but other reports are mixed and the question remains: how is the Sukhoi Superjet 100 program really faring after the terrible May crash of the SSJ in Jakarta?  Although the final conclusion has not been issued as to the cause, there has been much speculation surrounding the incident (and even some very strange theories which have been floated).  Of course a root cause of the accident matters greatly because if it is determined that the loss of the plane and all aboard was due to a technical or design flaw, Sukhoi will have to spend a lot more time and money investigating, repairing, and trying to regain the trust of the international aviation community.

It’s Complicated

While it’s not likely that there was a single root cause of failure (usually commercial aviation accidents are due to a calamity of errors), the future of this aircraft depends on which way the public perception leans.  So far, it seems like it’s kind of a mixed bag of opinions.

While we’re not fans of the certain pomp-and-circumstance ‘scoreboard-style’ sales tally that comes out of Paris and Farnborough airshows each year, we are currently in the midst of one at exactly the two month point following the Jakarta crash.  So it’s a decent gauge to measure near-term customer attitudes around this jet.

Sales

Superjet Wing
Out On a Wing

So how are sales faring?  As noted above, the NYT appears to be relatively optimistic by quoting company spokespeople and not digging too deep (I even had to verify that story was an article, and not a blog post).  They even headline that the crash ‘hasn’t hurt orders’.

But there have indeed been a few set backs.  First, it was reported by TTRWeekly that Russian airline and SSJ customer Aeroflot was having technical issues with their Superjets and was scaling back usage.  However it was later ‘revealed’ by the Aeroflot that most problems were with the innocuous air conditioning system.  This article also indicated that the SSJ would not make an appearance at Farnborough, but that was incorrect (it’s there, just not flying), so the validity of this report is probably in question.

Next was an article from Ria reporting that the very first SSJ-100 customer Armavia, the Armenian national carrier, was canceling  its order for a second SuperJet.  While not a huge impact in quantity, they were a first customer and presumably a big supporter of the program.

On the flip side, there is also some good news for Sukhoi.  Bloomberg reports that discount Mexican airline Interjet has solidified an order for five more SuperJets, bringing the carrier’s total SSJ orders to 20 jets, at an estimated value of $700 million USD.  That article also quotes  Vladimir S. Prisyazhnyuk, president of Sukhoi Civil Aircraft, where he said: “In terms of impact on the program, I’d say that not one of them has refused or canceled agreements. They’re still working with us.”

Longevity

Farnborough Airport Google Map
Farnborough Airport (Google Maps)

Of course Farnborough performance on its own does not carve one’s future in stone, but in this case it’s an interesting bellwether into the future of this program so soon after a major tragedy.  While all eyes are on the final investigation report out of Indonesia, expected within a few months, in the meantime it seems that the accident hasn’t yet destroyed the SuperJet-100 program, but it did not make things any easier for its maker.

  • uboatsag

    The SSJ air conditioning problem is so minimal that it does not has any impact on security of passengers: The primary system air conditioning sensor indicates a system failure while the system is working correctly. In taht case the back-up system takes over but for security issues the procedure indicates taht the pilot must fly the iairplane à lower altitude to provide oxygen in case the aircraft had a real air conditioning failure. This accounts for the vast majority of SSJ problems since the aircraft was flown commercially by Armavia on the 19 April 2011.

    However there are more important problems to be solved which are not safety related but are performance related: The SSJ aircraft empty weight is two tons over the specifications. Sukhoi is managing the problem with Snecma/NPU engine manufacturer. This overweight condition may explain why Sukhoi deliver its aircraft at a very low rate since the 19 april 2011: one aircraft per 7 weeks while it should build and deliver at least two aircraft a month to satisfy its customer deadlines.

    The points is that if it takes 2 years to fix the overweight problem in removing airframe, system and engine weight and that Sukhoi delivers too many aircrafts, then Sukhoi will have to rebuilt the already delivered aircraft to satisfy the contractul empty weight  specification requirement. This overweight problem is also in relation with the air conditioning problem which is a minimal problem to be solve quickly, but as this unsolved problem slows down the aircraft acceptance it is a good opportunity and it allows Sukhoi more time to solve the overweight problem without to many overweight aircraft delivered.

    Jean Ubota