Russia hopes to sell Superjet 100s to Norwegian in exchange for Siberian overflight rights

Superjet In the first nine months of 2019, Sukhoi Civil has sold only one SSJ100 (ATO.ru)

In a move to gain valuable rights to overfly Siberian airspace, Norwegian, one of Europe’s largest low-cost carriers (LCCs), is reportedly talking to Sukhoi Civil Aircraft Co (SCAC), the Russian manufacturer of the Superjet 100 (SSJ100) regional jet, about the prospect of leasing up to 40 of the type.

Citing close sources, RBC business wire has even claimed that the LCC has already signed a memorandum with SCAC, agreeing to take up to 40 SSJ100s in exchange for the rights to fly trans-Siberian services, which the airline has been trying to obtain for quite some time in order to launch direct services between its European bases, including London and Asia.

With Russia apparently not giving up on finding a signature foreign operator for the SSJ100, it is employing all available means to export its regional aircraft that has not yet proved itself to be commercially attractive to customers. According to RBC, initially, Sukhoi Civil will deliver 10 SSJ100s to Norwegian Air Argentina, a South American subsidiary of the Scandinavian airline and another 30 aircraft may then join the parent company’s fleet.

In exchange for taking up to 40 of the Russian aircraft, the airline is believed to have been promised permission to operate trans-Siberian routes at discounted rates. The LCC has been chasing such permission for several years in order to launch direct services between its London base and Asian countries including, among others, China, Japan and South Korea. It is estimated that the airline could save up to five hours of flight time and US$80,000 (round-trip) using the shorter trans-Siberian route. At one stage, to obtain this permission, the carrier even implored the Norwegian government to give its support by calling on the country to close its own airspace to Russian airlines.

With a 2018 catalogue price of around US$50.5 million for one SSJ100, 40 aircraft would cost the European airline US$2 billion.

In another move, industry sources are also saying that Russia is considering the possibility of lifting its ban on leisure charter flights to Egypt – with the resumption of talks on supplying 12 Superjet 100s to “a country’s airline”.

Currently, Mexican carrier Interjet remains the only commercial operator of the SSJ100 outside of Russia, as Irish company CityJet’s SSJ100 fleet has been grounded. Interjet has 22 of the Russian-built jets, however only 12 were in operation in the second half of 2018.

In the first nine months of 2019, SCAC has sold only one SSJ100. The company’s revenue has subsequently declined dramatically by more than 4.5 times, down to six billion roubles, whilst the project’s net loss has increased by 250 per cent. Earlier this year, the manufacturer and Slovenia’s Adria Airways failed to rubber-stamp a firm contract for the delivery of 15 Superjet 100s, as announced last November. Adria Airways, which recently ceased operations, could have become the only active European operator of the type after Ireland’s CityJet stored all of its SSJ100 aircraft.

Aeroflot remains the key customer in the Superjet 100 programme. However, talks on the delivery of 10 additional SSJ100s planned for this year are currently being protracted. State-controlled Aeroflot, which already operates 49 of the type, and was forced into the potential deal for as many as 100 more SSJ100s, has no options to exit this deal, but can re-negotiate its conditions. Although the carrier’s board has recently agreed to take five SSJ100s, SCAC was expecting to deliver 10 this year.

by Ivan Volodin

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