The aviation authorities of Cuba have ordered the grounding of the entire Antonov An-158 fleet operated by Cubana de Aviación, the Caribbean island nation’s flag carrier and the world’s only commercial operator of the type, according to publicly-available official notices.
In their resolution, the Cuban regulators explain that the grounding is the consequence of a number of problems associated with the operation of the Ukrainian-designed jet, including a shortage and unreliable delivery of component parts for the aircraft which are, to a great extent, produced in Russia.
The Antonov An-158 is a 100-seat regional jet, a stretched version of the An-148, which was designed and built in the Ukraine using many Russian components, in a project originally financed by a group of Russian banks. It was also a Russian lease company which organised a deal for the aircraft with Cuba. Against the difficult backdrop, cooperation between Russia and Ukraine remains fractured.
The Cuban airline has reportedly been beset by technical problems with the type since it entered service in 2013. In the last three months the operator registered abnormal engine operation temperatures on the Ukrainian Ivchenko-Progress D-436 engine. One of the fleet, tail number CU-T1716, was removed from service after the aircraft manufacturer mandated to stop operation of the aircraft’s powerplant.
The other five aircraft – CU-T1710, CU-T1711, CU-T1712, CU-T1714 and CU-T1715 – are in different states of health. According to public flight tracking web-services, CU-T1716 made its final flight on May 3, CU-T1715 has been grounded since March 1, and CU-T1714 since January 19. There are no signs of any operations for the remaining aircraft for over a year. The airline has not offered any comments to Russian Aviation Insider, but apparently it will have to report to the authorities about the prospect of restoring the fleet’s airworthiness for a resumption of operations.
Antonov State Enterprise has confirmed to Russian Aviation Insider that it signed an agreement with the new management of Cubana de Aviación to assist in the return to service of the An-158s before the end of this year. “Antonov’s engineers will conduct a technical assessment of the fleet’s condition and will create a list of necessary maintenance works for each aircraft. Both sides are committed to a productive cooperation,” an Antonov source comments.
In May 2017 Antonov extended the service life of all Cuban An-158s for six months. It also announced plans to create a spare parts stock for the type and arrange a supply chain jointly with foreign partners to solve the components shortage problem. It also suggested a full-fleet support programme for the airline. However no further announcements or developments in terms of airworthiness have since been made.
The production of these aircraft in the Ukraine and their subsequent export to Cuba was financed by a group of Russian banks and overseen by Russia’s Ilyushin Finance Co and the Panama-registered South American Aircraft Leasing (SAAL). The Russian lessor has emphasised that the aircraft were impeccably serviced throughout the guarantee period. However, once that guarantee period had expired, the airline failed to take sufficient action towards providing financing for further components delivery or for securing relevant agreements with the manufacturer and suppliers. “Thus we are getting the impression that the Cuban side has intentionally created the situation for building a negative perception of the aircraft, while neglecting the fact that it did not take any steps towards arranging for the continued airworthiness of its aircraft,” IFC said.
The lessor also points out that the An-148 – original member of An-148/158 family – is currently successfully operated by Russia’s Angara and Saratov Airlines, as well as EMERCOM and the nation’s Defence Ministry. Their continued airworthiness and defect rectification procedures have been in place since service entry, and with such due attention, the aircraft have continued to demonstrate good results, both operationally and commercially, the lessor insists.
Ilyushin Finance Co is currently not connected in any way with the An-158, but its MRO subsidiary IFC Technic has been in talks with Cubana de Aviacion regarding maintenance options.
Cubana de Aviacion earlier complained that untimely deliveries of spare parts from discordant Russia and Ukraine had forced it to cancel flights. For example, in May 2017, out of 116 scheduled flights from Olguin, 38 had to be cancelled and a further 36 of the remaining 78 were delayed due to technical reasons, the airline claimed.
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