Why The SSJ Failed And How The SSJ-New Won’t

Russia’s Sukhoi Superjet (SSJ) has proven to be a hit in the country of its manufacture, but has struggled to gain any traction outside of Russia. In a bid to boost sales overseas, Rostec is working on the SSJ-New, an updated, mostly Russian-made Superjet. Simple Flying caught up with Victor Kladov, Head International Cooperation & Regional Policy At Rostec, the parent company of United Aircraft Corporation, to find out what the plans are for the SSJ-new.

Sukhoi Superjet
Rostec wants to ‘Russify’ its SSJ 100. Photo: Rostec

Slow sales for the SSJ 100

To date, the SSJ 100 has seen a total of 301 orders, with 147 planes delivered. The vast majority of these aircraft are in Russia, flying with airlines such as Aeroflot, Azimuth, and Yamal Airlines. But not all of them stayed in Russia. Interjet in Mexico ordered 30, but only took delivery of 22 before entering Chapter 11 and undertaking restructuring activities. CityJet took delivery of seven, all of which are in storage. And Armavia took delivery of one before it went bankrupt – the aircraft is now stored.

The lack of success of the SSJ 100 outside of Russia appears to be a combination of bad luck, bad timing and problems with the supply chain. Airlines going bankrupt and the curse of 2020 was not something Rostec could have predicted. But for some airlines, such as Interjet, the problems with the Superjets were well established long before 2020 came about.

Despite being a capable aircraft, maintenance problems have made the SSJ less popular outside of Russia. Photo: Rostec

Simple Flying spoke with Victor Kladov, Head International Cooperation & Regional Policy At Rostec, on the sidelines of the Dubai Airshow. He explained the SSJ’s failings saying,

“Some of the early attempts to introduce the SSJ to some countries failed because of logistical hiccups. When a small company buys a limited amount of aircraft and then they need a replacement engine, if the French side is unable to supply an engine and then it is grounded. Then the company sustains losses.”

It’s well-publicized that Interjet was failing to get the parts supply it needed, and that the utilization of the SSJs was limited as a result. This time around, Kladov is confident the SSJ-New can leave Russia with a solid maintenance and parts fulfillment strategy in place. This, he believes, is key to its success on the international stage. He said,

“We foresee a very good market for this aircraft provided we build up a system of logistical support for the aircraft – that’s very important. Once we achieve this ultimate goal, the Sukhoi SuperJet will begin expanding internationally.”

The SSJ-New will embrace more Russian parts and will have a more comprehensive parts network. Photo: Rostec

What’s so new about the new Superjet?

The reimagining of the Superjet isn’t quite the sort of change we’d expect from some other OEM developments. This is not a ceo to a neo, more a mixed breed into a purebred. The key target for this project is to replace as much of the foreign-made components with Russian-built systems, as Mr Kladov explained,

“The SSJ-New will have many system replaced by Russian systems, because originally the Sukhoi Superjet was assembled by different international companies – there were 28 European and American companies participating in the project. Now we want to make a real Russian regional jet. So we’ll be replacing many systems with Russian-made systems.”

At present the SSJ flies with the PowerJet SaM-146 engine, an engine produced through a joint venture between Snecma (Safran) in France and NPO Saturn of Russia. Based on the CFM56, a popular engine for the Airbus A320 and Boeing 737 families. To Russify this aircraft, the SaM engine will be swapped out for the Russian-made PD-8 engine. Just last month, Rostec completed ground testing of the PD-8, demonstrating that it’s well on the way to beginning flight tests of the SSJ-New.

Superjet New Engine
Rostec has been testing the PD-8 engines, destined for the SSJ-New. Photo: Rostec

When this reworking of the SSJ was first announced, back in 2015, Rostec was targeting increasing the number of Russian-made parts from around 45% to 55 or 60%. Since then, this proportion seems to have ticked up a fair bit, with the latest word from the company noting that it is replacing 97% of foreign-made components with Russian alternatives.

The SSJ-New is planned to carry 87 to 98 passengers, and to have high utilization of up to 18 hours per day. It was scheduled to begin certification in 2024, but amid pressures from President Putin, it will now begin certification in 2023 with a view to entering into service in 2024.