Sukhoi SSJ-100; Mess or Success?

The Sukhoi SSJ-100 is the first commercial aircraft Russia has ever produced that has some appeal to western operators, and is to open the international market for the Irkut MC-21 narrow body aircraft to follow in 2020 at best.

Sukhoi’s 93 seat, $35 million SSJ-100 has received thirty orders this year already (Aeroflot x 20, Interjet x 10) and is looking to a new stretched version by 2018. Is this aircraft a real competitor to Embraer, Bombardier and Mitsubishi? Or is it just a ‘niche’ aircraft mainly for the Russian Federation? it’s Snecma SaM146 engine is a CFM56 derivative which is being phased out in the industry as new generation engines come on line on the Boeing MAX, C-Series, MRJ Embraer E2’s and Airbus Neo aircraft.

 

With published SSJ fleet aircraft utilization at eight operators between a low 93 to 166 hours per month this has to be worrying for any operator, is there a problem with support? Reliability? Or the operators? Delivery to its first Western European customer, VLM Airlines of Belgium is delayed until 3Q/2016 due to certification. As well the aircraft’s future international success depends on Russia’s foreign policy. If new sanctions are added, they will target the Russian aerospace industry, crushing Russia’s dream of being a serious international commercial aircraft player with the SSJ-100 and future Irkut MC-21. Without international orders, no company can be a major player in this industry, no matter how big its domestic market is.

 

SuperJet International SpA (a joint venture between Alenia 51%, Sukhoi 49% on the Sukhoi SSJ-100 SuperJet) with 182 orders, has received a follow on order from Mexico’s Interjet for ten more of the aircraft for a list price of $US 350 million, though no one pays list price for commercial aircraft today, not at Sukhoi for sure, and not at Boeing, Airbus, ATR, Bombardier, Mitsubishi and Embraer. I would be very surprised if Interjet paid more than $24.5 million per unit (30% off).

 

Interjet now has thirteen of the 93 seat $US 35 million list price SSJ-100’s in its fleet. It is the BIG international customer now with seventeen more to be delivered. The airline chose the SSJ-100 due to its attractive price and its ability to operate from its Toluca, Mexico hub (8,466′ ASL), which apparently the E-190 could not do without a major payload range penalty. The airline also has 46 x A320’s with 40 x A320 Neo on order as well as 10 x A321 Neo. The airline says it is happy with its SSJ’s and has a 99% reliability so far.

 

In a May 2014, a SSJ service statistic showed Interjet with 6 SSJ’s flying only an average of 166 flight hours per month per aircraft, 5.1 flights per day on an average sectors of 1.1 flight hours.  Flying a brand new regional jet for less than 2,000 hours per year is not economical, and either the aircraft has a reliability issue or management is not efficiently utilizing the aircraft, as a new jet must fly at least 3,000 flight hours per year (250 FH/month). I am sure the A320’s are flying at least ten hours per day, so why is the SSJ doing half that?

 

Looking at the aircraft utilization of the four airlines that went bust operating the aircraft (Armavia of Armenia, Sky Aviation of Indonesia, Lao Central of Laos, Moskovia of Russia), it is obvious the aircraft were greatly underutilized and with the high fixed cost an airline is saddled with, your cost of operation at too low of a utilization increases CASM beyond PRASM. (Armavia 122 FH/month, Sky Aviation 111 FH/month, Lao Central 28 FH/month, Moskovia 93 FH/month). Utilization was one reason they went bust, was it the operator or the OEM at fault? Anyway, by 2014 only 84 SSJ-100’s have been delivered, less than two per month since its EIS (entry into service) April, 2011. There is a plan for a stretched version by 2018. The aircraft may get caught up in the political and economic crisis that Russia is in today.

 

While Russia’s flag carrier, Aeroflot returned the first “lite” 10 SSJ-100’s to Sukhoi, which paid $19 million to Aeroflot for each one (NOTE: indication of actual price paid by Aeroflot though Sukhoi has confirmed a price of $16.6 million to Aeroflot, the extra $2.4 million per aircraft was for operational lost revenue), the early ‘lite’ version was problematic and will be replaced with the LR ‘full” version, Aeroflot just ordered twenty more in January, 2015, and will operate fifty SSJ’s in due time.

 

Apparently Sukhoi will use those ‘lite’ versions for their corporate VIP aircraft conversion program, as they think they can sell eight to ten VIP versions, the cabin is big, but range is too little and will have to be at least equal to the Embraer Lineage 1000E at 4,600 nm to be attractive (currently 2,950 nm is the max. range).

By Tomas Chlumecky

The author, Tomas “Aviation Doctor” Chlumecky, is a Canadian and EU national with 27+ years of experience in aviation on 5 continents and 25 countries. He was a senior airline executive with 2 airlines and management adviser with 30+ airlines in 20 countries, plus another 30 airlines as Airline Analyst. Tomas picked the name Aviation Doctor, as much of his work was just that, every airline has ‘problems’ (to various degrees of complexity), he diagnoses the symptoms, zooms in on the causes of decline and then prescribes a set of prescriptions (e.g. immediate actions, strategies, and tactics) to fix whatever was causing the decline and then execute what is required to slowly heal the operation, step by step. Tomas helps aviation companies to transform the present into a more profitable tomorrow



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