Russian jet crashes into Putin's victory day

By bne IntelliNews May 10, 2012

Graham Stack in Kyiv -

Vladimir Putin's third term as Russian president got off to the worst possible start on May 10 with confirmation that a Sukhoi Superjet 100 crashed on a marketing flight in Indonesia. The plane has been heralded by the Kremlin as a leading edge in Russian industry's return as a global competitor.

Indonesian authorities reported on May 9 that the Sukhoi disappeared from radar screens with 45 people on board, including eight representatives of Sukhoi who were on an Asian tour to promote the new mid-range jet. Wreckage was found on the steep slopes of a volcano in Java the following day.

While the cause of the accident has still to be ascertained, even pilot error would cast doubts on the quality of the plane, given that Sukhoi's top demonstration flight team was at the controls. Alongside the Sukhoi staff, the plane carried Indonesian businessmen, Russian embassy officials and journalists.

The tour, which was launched to try to drum up more orders, started on May 3 and took in Kazakhstan and Pakistan before arriving in Indonesia. It was due to head to Laos and Vietnam next. Indonesia is scheduled to become one of Sukhoi's largest clients for the aircraft, reports AFP. In August, Indonesian regional carrier PT Sky Aviation agreed to buy 12 of the planes, following an order from Kartika airlines for 30 SSJs. Superjets. Deliveries are scheduled to start this year.

The crash came on the same day as Russia's Victory Day parade in Moscow, when the country's military might rolls through Moscow to Red Square, and only two days after Putin's inauguration as president for a controversial third term.

The Sukhoi Superjet 100 (SSJ) is the flagship of the state-owned United Aircraft Corporation, formed during the president's second term in office in 2004-08. Set up alongside fellow state champion United Shipbuilding Corporation, UAC was the leading edge in a restructuring of Russia's civil and military engineering sectors, which once played a major role in the global trade but fell into deep crisis after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The Kremlin has touted the SSJ as symbolising the return of Russian plane-building to international competitiveness. Significant volumes of state funding went into its development, and Russian state-owned carriers make up the lion's share of the order book for the plane, although it has been punting it to many customers outside the West. Most of the plane's components, especially its electronics, are supplied by leading Western manufacturers, with the engines developed by a French-Russia joint venture.

The plane's production has been beset by delays and there are currently only two models in active use in the world, one operated by Aeroflot and the second by the Armenian national carrier.

Former Russian president and now Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has established a commission to investigate the accident, the government press service reports. In 2011, Medvedev fired the previous head of the UAC, Aleksei Fedorov, under whose aegis most of the SSJ development took place, for "insufficient innovation." In December 2010 he also fired two deputy heads of Russia's space agency Roskosmos following an unsuccessful satellite launch attempt.

The Sukhoi superset was designed specifically to avoid two failings of the Soviet civilian aircraft made by Tupolev and Yakovelev design bureaux: high fuel consumption and a terrible safety record.

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