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RIA Novosti

MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Viktor Litovkin) - "Our relations with French firms are developing more than successfully," Mikhail Pogosyan, general director of the Sukhoi aircraft concern, has told RIA Novosti. And he knows that he is talking about.

Sukhoi will soon attend an international exhibition in Hanover to display the Russian Regional Jet (RRJ-95) rather than world-famous Su-30 fighters and their modifications. Russia is implementing the RRJ program with France. Thales will develop the avionics, whereas Snecma and Russia's Saturn scientific center will be responsible for the engine and engine nacelle. Germany's Liebherr and Russia's Voskhod design center will design the RRJ's remote-control systems. Liebherr will also build the air conditioners. France's Messier Dowty will manufacture RRJ landing gear. Intertechnique will provide the plane's fuel systems. Hamilton Sundstrand will furnish the electrical equipment. B/E Aerospace is responsible for cockpit and passenger-compartment interiors, while Honeywell and Salyut of Russia will assemble auxiliary power plants. Ipeco will provide the cockpit chairs.

France is making a significant contribution to the RRJ-95 program, and the Sukhoi management's choice of partner was no coincidence. The Russian corporation wanted to team up with famous aircraft producers that could promote the RRJ program on the global market, because Sukhoi faces tough competition from other regional aircraft manufacturers, including the Tupolev company with its Tu-334, Russia-Ukraine's Antonov An-148, Brazil's Embraer, Canada's Bombardier and China's ERJ.

Some of these planes have not been flight tested yet and their certification tests have not been completed either. In addition, even though the Sukhoi civilian plane has received state support, the same cannot be said about the others. However, competition is competition. Better specifications and performance, more impressive fuel-efficiency and passenger comfort are the only way to be successful on the global market. At the same time, major aircraft producers and airlines should also provide support. The Sukhoi management has always believed in the RRJ program's profitability. The French firms involved are also interested in this commercial side.

Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov visited France last December to hold talks with the French leadership. The two countries' governments considered the RRJ project to be a top priority. These aircraft will feature SaM-146 engines developed by Snecma and Saturn. The Russian government decided to support the program with state guarantees worth $100 million from the federal budget.

Moreover, the cabinet has included the SaM-146 engine project and the RRJ program in the Federal Target Program, The Development of Aircraft in 2002-2010 and until 2015. According to the government, the RRJ program will receive state credit guarantees totaling 2.7 billion rubles, or about $100 million. And this promise is being honored.

A contract for the delivery of 50 aircraft has been signed with the Siberia Airlines and Sukhoi has submitted commercial proposals to UTAir and Pulkovo Airlines. Sukhoi, Air France, Iberia and other European airlines have also reached verbal agreements on buying the RRJ.

The concerned parties have already completed the preliminary RRJ design, as well as the 3-D aircraft layout, choosing equipment and materials suppliers. Contracts for the delivery of the first 50 RRJ planes are ready and the process to issue certificates to |Russian and European standards has been completed. Warranty support and post-warranty support programs have been endorsed, as have personnel training and service engineering plans. RRJ production will be based at the Sukhoi company's Komsomolsk-on-Amur and Novosibirsk factories.

These enterprises are to start assembling the first planes during Q1 2005. Pogosyan told RIA Novosti that a prototype RRJ airliner would fly by the Q3 2006.

"We are starting the production of planes for trials," said Pogosyan. "I am certain that this program has everything necessary to become a breakthrough in the Russian aerospace sector. For the first time, a Russian producer is offering a product that completely corresponds to the demands of the global market and has great export potential. The leading European states support us, including France. This gives Russian a unique opportunity to take up firm positions on the global civil aviation market."

This 95-seater RRJ is unique and will be displayed in Hanover. The plane is fitted with a fuel-efficient engine and up-to-date avionics, and has a 3,050-4,485km range without refueling. Sukhoi will display a comfortable-looking RRJ passenger compartment model in Germany. The airliner embodies all the best achievements in the global aircraft industry, as is proved by the participation of such famous French companies as Thales, Snecma, Messier Dowty and others.

Jean-Pierre Cojan, Snecma general director for civilian planes, said at a Moscow press conference that as far as technical aspects were concerned, "this is the best project in its class in terms of payload and range." According to Cojan, the RRJ will be fitted with the avionics that can be found aboard the A-380 advanced passenger airliner, which is the world's largest. "In addition, the RRJ is equipped with the best engine," he said.

The RRJ program will require an estimated $600 million to complete, with potential aircraft sale volumes standing at more than $10 billion. The international market will need about 5,500 of these small, inexpensive and easy-to-use passenger airliners in the next 20 years. Production of RRJ planes is scheduled to start in 2007, with CIS countries buying an estimated 300 aircraft. Europe, North America and South-East Asia will purchase more than 400 of these airliners. Sukhoi hopes to earn annually more than $1.5 billion in RRJ sales, which would equals its earnings from jet fighter sales.

According to Pogosyan, Sukhoi, which has already invested $70 million into the program, plans to recoup its expenses and to make the first profits in the near future. The RRJ aircraft may well start selling rapidly in the next few years, with the support of French, other European and U.S. firms facilitating Sukhoi's success.

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