What Will Happen With Interjet’s Sukhoi Fleet?

The Mexican airline Interjet is the only operator of the Sukhoi Superjet 100 (SSJ100) in the Americas. While the low-cost carrier has been in arrears for the last year and has lost 100% of its former Airbus fleet, Interjet still believes that it can continue flying with its Russian-built airplanes. And Irkut Corporation, the current manager of the Sukhoi program, agrees with that. Irkut spoke with Simple Flying regarding the SSJ100’s future at Interjet. Let’s investigate further.

Interjet Getty
Interjet could receive the remaining eight SSJ100 from its original order. Photo: Getty Images

Is the SSJ100 the man for the job?

Currently, airlines worldwide are in a deep crisis due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is no different in Mexico. The number of domestic passengers for Interjet has fallen 61.97% in comparison with 2019, for example.

No one expects a swift recovery for the aviation industry anymore. Latin American airlines project a return of 2019 passenger levels in 2024, 2025, or even 2026. As a result, many airlines have been rejecting contract leases or retiring older widebody airplanes.

For Interjet, that wasn’t exactly the case. In January, the carrier had a fleet of 88 aircraft, composed of 66 Airbus A320 family and 22 SSJ100. It planned to phase out the SSJ100 fleet, as it confirmed to Simple Flying at the beginning of the year.

In 2020, Interjet lost its Airbus fleet. Photo: Daniel Martínez Garbuno/Simple Flying

When COVID-19 struck in Mexico, the leasing companies started repossessing the Airbus airplanes. So, Interjet had to bring its SSJ100 fleet back from retirement. That has been difficult, as many of those planes have not flown since 2018. As of September 2020, Interjet has brought back seven of the 22 SSJ100. But, was this phoenix-like-plane a blessing in disguise for Interjet? Irkut said,

“In the post-COVID environment, the load factor has decreased impactfully, so the SSJ offers the airline’s best flight economy, having a small passenger capacity in line with excellent operational characteristics. The SSJ100 is of great service to Interjet at the present time.”

Could Interjet receive the remaining SSJ100 order it had?

Interjet received its first SSJ100 in 2013. The low-cost carrier ordered 30 units of this program, in a deal that, at the moment, seemed like a win-win. Nevertheless, Interjet started having problems with the SSJ100 soon after. In 2015, it lost an airplane in a non-fatal accident in Mexico City. The next year, Russia grounded the Sukhoi Superjet fleet. During this time, Interjet was supposed to receive a simulator to train its pilots; that never happened, as reported by A21. Little by little, the airline started grounding its Russian planes.

The relationship between Interjet and the Russian manufacturer went south when, in 2019, the airline changed its management. José Luiz Garza, the former CEO, went out, while William Shaw entered the company. He planned to focus on the Airbus fleet. Interjet received only 22 of the 30 SSJ100s, and the rest of the order was put on hold. As Irkut pointed out,

“We are aware that during the time of Mr. Shaw executive management, Interjet greatly improved its numbers. In light of this, the negotiation process between Sukhoi and Interjet was subject to consideration of different strategies.”

Now, that could change. We asked Irkut whether Interjet could still receive the remaining eight SSJs. The company replied,

“I can tell you that we remain in communication with the customer, negotiating on the deal.”

Recently, Interjet obtained a $150 million investment. Photo: SuperJet International via Flickr.

Could Mexico see more Sukhois in the future?

While Interjet and Irkut may negotiate on the deal, it is not as simple as it seems. Both parties still have many steps to overcome. For instance, as Interjet grounded its SSJ100 fleet, the pilots that were certified for this aircraft lost their licenses. The only way they can earn back those licenses is by traveling to Venice to train on the simulator Sukhoi has there. But, the European Union isn’t allowing Mexican citizens entrance at the moment, unless they have a special permit.

Interjet also has financial arrears. The company is in a reorganization phase, but there is no guarantee it will survive the current crisis. It has lost 100% of its international market share and more than 90% of its domestic market share. As Irkut said,

“The aviation market environment is constantly changing, and the airlines have to adapt to it fast, in order to maintain their businesses and profitability.”

Nevertheless, one has to ask if its a little bit too late for Interjet?

Do you expect to see more SSJ100 flying in Mexico? Let us know in the comments.