Despite a tragic crash that killed everyone aboard, the Russian Superjet 100 may still have an international future. Its engineering and relatively low price will keep it an attractive option for some countries.
The crash of a Russian Superjet 100 in Indonesia was a tragedy for the dozens of people killed when the plane slammed into a mountain on Wednesday.
While the cause of the crash remains unknown, investigators in Russia announced Thursday that they opened a criminal investigation into possible misconduct during preparations for the flight.
Regardless of the inquiry's outcome, the crash will also be a disaster for Sukhoi, the Russian company that manufactured the plane, said Patrick Hoeveler of the German trade magazine Flug Revue.
The Superjet 100 was making its second 50-minute demonstration flight of the day before it crashed south of Jakarta, killing all the Russian crew, as well as airline representatives and journalists on board.
The Superjet 100 is the first large passenger plane built by Russia's state-owned manufacturer Sukhoi since the end of the Soviet era. The new short and medium-haul plane was created in cooperation with the US aviation giant Boeing and Italy's Finmeccancia and aims to compete with the market-leading Brazilian Embraer and Canada's Bombardier.
The Superjet 100 first took off in 2008, and Sukhoi had planned to build 1,000 of the jets. The Indonesia crash will not necessarily change those plans, according to Achim Figgen, deputy editor of the trade publication AERO International.
"First you really have to know what the cause was," he said, adding that other planes - including the Airbus A320 - had crashed during demonstration flights without affecting their final success.
Hoeveler said the Superjet 100 still needed to prove itself in the international aviation marketplace, particularly since Sukhoi, which recently focused on military planes, has not yet found a large, established buyer for its civilian aircraft.
Russian ray of aviation hope
"There are some shortcomings in Russian products, but this was seen as ray of hope for Russia's civilian aviation industry," he said.
Russia's Aeroflot and Armenia's Armavia operate several of the Superjet 100s. Aeroflot, according to Russian media reports, has not been satisfied with the Superjet 100's performance and has filed for damages. The airline complained that the aircraft miss too many flights for technical problems as well as delays in the delivery of replacement parts.
Aeroflot announced on Thursday that it would not be grounding the rest of its Superjet 100 fleet.
Despite such reports, Figgen said from a technical point of view the Superjet 100 is safe and competitive in part because Russia chose to rely partially on its Western partners.
"There is a lot of Western know-how built into it," he said. "Especially in the critical electronics and technology where Russian aviation was not as advanced."
Figgen said Sukhoi had taken a step in the right direction by creating a modern aircraft that did not rely on earlier or outdated engineering.
"If anyone can do it, then Sukhoi can, because in the past it's been able to sell its products - the fighter jets - to customers outside of Russia," he said, adding that developing and emerging nations would be attracted by the Superjet 100's price tag. "It is sold in part by its price of a little over $30 million while the Airbus A318 costs $67 million."
Author: Markian Ostaptschuk / sms
Editor: Andreas Illmer