Can the "Superjet" rescue regional flights?

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The Independent Travel

A new Russian-designed jet could be delivered as early as mid-2010, according to reports from Moscow, providing a boost to struggling regional services.

The Sukhoi "Superjet," a short-range regional jet capable of seating 75 to 95 people, expects to receive its airworthiness certificate this summer, Russia's Industry Minister reportedly told parliament. Once this certification is received, delivery can begin - 122 aircraft are currently due to be delivered, around half to Russia and half to customers in Italy, Spain, Armenia, Hungary and Switzerland.

The Superjet made its international debut at the last year's Paris Air Show, generating considerable interest. Sukhoi claims that it is 10 percent more fuel efficient than comparable aircraft and is more comfortable, offering "jumbo jet comfort." It will put the Russian manufacturer in direct competition with small jet manufacturers Embraer and Bombadier, and to a lesser extent, industry giants such as the 109-seat Airbus A318 and the 123-seat Boeing 737-600.

China's Comac is also working on a regional jet with similar specifications, the first commercial airliner produced by China. The ARJ21 will seat between 70 and 100 passengers and is also due for delivery this year.

Regional carriers that serve commuter passengers (or those connecting for intercontinental flights at major hubs) hope that these new aircraft can provide a much-needed boost to the industry. Mike Ambrose, the Director General of the European Regions Airlines Association, labeled 2009 the year of "aviation's economic tsunami" in October last year.

With short flights facing competition from high-speed rail links and high fuel costs, many are questioning the viability of flying short distances. In 2001, Air France cancelled its Paris to Brussels flights in favor of booking passengers onto the Thalys high speed train service. More recently in Italy, Alitalia has faced tough competition from high speed rail - particularly on its lucrative Milan-Rome route - incurring serious losses in 2009.

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