CityJet In Talks To Lease Out Superjets

June 1, 2016

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CityJet, the first western European airline to take delivery of Russia's Superjet, expects to lease the plane to major European carriers from next summer in a move that could boost the aircraft's credibility and help it win more orders.

The Superjet, Russia's first new civilian airliner since the fall of the Soviet Union, has been championed by President Vladimir Putin as leading the renaissance of civil aviation in the country.

But the project suffered a blow in 2012 when a Superjet crashed in Indonesia during a promotional flight, though investigators said this was due to pilot error rather than a fault on the plane.

Irish regional airline CityJet took delivery of the plane this month and executive chairman Pat Byrne said it planned to use most of its fleet of up to 31 of the jets for wet leases - providing aircraft, crew and maintenance to other airlines.

"We are in dialogue with two other airlines… and I would be optimistic we would have our first other contract for summer 2017," Byrne told Reuters at the annual IATA gathering in Dublin.

The use by major airlines "is going to establish the credibility of the aircraft in Europe," he added, while declining to name the airlines involved.

The Superjet project is led by Sukhoi - part of Russia's state-owned United Aircraft Corporation, which Putin created in 2006 to revive the country's aircraft industry - in partnership with Italy's Finmeccanica.

CityJet will start flying the first of the 15 Superjets it has on firm order for charter services next week. It has options for another 16 of the planes.

Byrne said that while the jet's Russian origin might dissuade some customers for political reasons, there were no grounds to question its safety, noting 70 percent of the plane was made from Western parts.

Key selling points are its 98-seat configuration, which avoids bans at some large European carriers on subcontracting flights over 100 seats, as well as fuel efficiency and an interior that is larger than most regional jets.

With a list price of around USD$35 million, the Superjet is also cheaper than rivals made by Bombardier and Embraer.

As the lead customer in Europe, CityJet secured a "very attractive deal" for 12-year leases on the plane, Byrne said, without elaborating.