Superjet Carries Russia's Hopes for Aircraft Industry Rebirth

The Birmingham Post (England), September 26, 2007 | Go to article overview
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Superjet Carries Russia's Hopes for Aircraft Industry Rebirth


Russia will todayseek a boost for President Vladimir Putin's bid to revive its once mighty aviation industry by rolling out its first modern commercial airliner for the global market - the Superjet.

Built by the former Soviet Union's largest warplane maker Sukhoi, whose Su-27 fighter family was designed for combat with Boeing's F-15 Eagle, the civil Superjet is a 78 to 98 seat regional airliner developed in co-operation with its old Cold War foe.

The new civil plane will be unveiled at a Sukhoi military factory at Komsomolsk-on-Amur in Russia's Far East. Its September maiden flight has been delayed for a month or two.

While Boeing's involvement in development is seen by analysts as a symbolic one, with the US group keen to tap into Russian titanium supplies for its next generation of jetliners, French and Italian firms have invested heavily in the project.

At stake is an EUR8 billion (pounds 3.96 billion) market for regional jets dominated by Brazil's Embraer and Bombardier of Canada, though that is relatively small compared with the EUR60 billion (pounds 29 billion) spent annually on big jets made by Boeing and Airbus.

Sukhoi's new civil battle also pitches it against Chinese and Japanese firms racing to invest in regional jet transport - a market which offers a chance to flex industrial muscle without the colossal sums needed to challenge Airbus or Boeing.

"This is a very important programme for Russia because it means the rebirth of its aerospace industry," said Marc Ventre, executive vice-president of aerospace propulsion at French conglomerate Safran.

"The Russians are very good in military aircraft, but in commercial aircraft they are far behind, and this should put the their industry back on track," Mr Ventre added.

Russian aviation collapsed after the fall of the Soviet Union. Observers say Putin (left) wants to breathe new life into the sector to demonstrate Moscow's industrial clout abroad and help project the Kremlin's authority to voters inside Russia.

Russia's leader has forged a giant new state aircraft holding company, known as United Aviation Corporation, to spearhead the revival under First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov, a Putin favourite tipped as leading candidate to succeed him next year.

Key to the Superjet's success is a deal between Sukhoi and Italian aerospace firm Finmeccanica, whose Alenia Aero-nautica unit has 25 per cent of Sukhoi's civil division.

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