On November 6 the first An-148 regional jet, ordered by Rossiya airlines, flew from the factory airfield of Voronezh VASO facility to the airline’s home airport in St. Petersburg. The aircraft is expected to start commercial operations on domestic routes from St. Petersburg in the beginning of December.
This very aircraft in Rossiya livery was for the first time presented at Moscow MAKS 2009 air show in August. It was officially handed over to the airline in October, but stayed in Voronezh. The delay was reportedly caused by the necessity to complete the aircraft’s service documentation.
Nevertheless the first operational experience for An-148 has already been gained by Ukrainian carrier Aerosvit. It operates only one aircraft that flies on domestic routes between Kiev and Odessa, Simferopol and Lviv. According to the airline, the aircraft makes two flights a day with the average flight time of 4-5 hours. In the nearest future Aerosvit plans to increase the intensity of operations up to 4 daily flights.
Due to its technical parameters the regional An-148 became quite popular on the market. As for now Russia’s Ilyushin Finance (IFC) leasing company that is marketing the new jet, has about 70 firm orders for An-148. Rossiya should receive 6 aircraft during 2009-2010. Initially it was expected to get 4 jets this year, but later these plans have been reduced to 3 aircraft. The second and the third An-148s are to be delivered to the Russian carrier in November and December, correspondingly.
To finance the An-148 purchases from United Aircraft Corporation, VASO’s parent company, IFC opened a 3 billion rubles (about $100 million) credit line at VEB bank for a period of 7-10 years. The parties didn’t report how many aircraft have already been purchased. The An-148’s list price for airline amounts to $24-30 million.
But despite the firm orders and secured financing, the main problem for An-148 program is to ensure the required production rate. As the initial manufacturer – Kiev-based Aviant plant failed to respond the growing orders; it was decided to move the fuselage assembly from Ukraine to Voronezh. According to the source in the Ukrainian aerospace industry, Russia and Ukraine finally realized that political tensions and aspirations to keep 50 to 50 parity in the An-148 production could kill this rather successful program, so now all efforts are focused to ensure high aircraft’s assembly rate.
In the cabin layout, ordered by Rossiya, An-148 can carry 8 passengers in the business class and 60 persons in the economy class at the range of 3.5 thousand km with a cruise speed of 800-870 km. The aircraft has a high-wing monoplane design, so the highly mounted engines enable to operate An-148 from local unimproved airfields. The other advantages of An-148 are the high fuel efficiency of Motor Sich D-436-148 engines and the entrance stairs that enables to board and deplane passengers without special ground equipment.
Despite the unpretentious takeoff and landing parameters, another reason for delay with the start of An-148 commercial operations is that the Russian airports are still not certified to accept this type. The head of Aerosvit carrier Konstantin Botev expects that Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport will be ready to accept the aircraft in December. After that the Ukrainian airline will start to operate An-148 on its flights between Kiev and Moscow. According to Botev, the An-148 flights to Europe could start as early as in mid-2010.
An-148 can hardly compete with the existing regional aircraft by the world’s leading manufacturers on the markets with the highly developed ground infrastructure, but it has quite good chances in Russia, the CIS and developing countries. In June Russia, Ukraine and Iran signed a trilateral memorandum for delivery of 50 An-148s. Nevertheless these plans will be realized as soon as the manufacturers reach the required production rate.
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