YEREVAN, Armenia - Armenian airline Armavia has decided to return its Sukhoi Superjet 100 because the new aircraft is below the required standards, local media reported on Monday, in what is a major blow for the Russian aircraft manufacturer which is still working to overcome a deadly plane crash earlier this year.
Armavia was the launch customer for the Sukhoi Superjet 100, the first civil aircraft to be built by a Russian aircraft manufacturer since the fall of the Soviet Union. The airline received the aircraft in April 2011 and used it for flights from Armenia to Ukraine and to the Russian cities of Moscow, St. Petersburg and Sochi.
An Armavia spokeswoman told the Arka and RIA Novosti news agencies on Monday that the airline has decided to return the aircraft because it was below the previously declared standards and also required repairs. "We consider it inappropriate to purchase a plane which requires repairs during its first year in service," she said.
A source with knowledge about the situation told a Russian newspaper earlier on Monday that Armavia is a relatively small airline and cannot afford to make experiments. Armavia President Mikhail Baghdasarov earlier also expressed discontent over the relationship with Sukhoi and complained spare parts for the Superjet 100 are more expensive than similar spare parts for Western aircraft.
Armavia was also scheduled to receive a second Superjet 100 last year, but the process was dragged out until June of this year when the airline said it will not buy the second aircraft and instead opt to purchase a Western aircraft. Both planes are currently at a Sukhoi flight test facility near Moscow, where the first Armavia aircraft was undergoing regularly scheduled maintenance.
Armavia's refusal of the medium-haul aircraft could prove to be a major blow for Sukhoi, which delivered its tenth production aircraft to Russian airline Aeroflot late last month. Aeroflot, which operates all but one of the Superjet 100s currently in operation, previously ordered a total of 30 Superjet 100 aircraft and intends to buy 10 more.
Sukhoi is still attempting to overcome a deadly crash in May, when a Superjet 100 crashed into a cliff on Mount Salak near the Indonesian capital of Jakarta, killing all 45 people on board. The aircraft was participating in Sukhoi's "Welcome Asia" roadshow to promote the Superjet 100 to airlines in a number of Asian countries.
The cause of the accident in May remains unknown, but investigators are focusing on pilot error and technical failure as two possibilities. If Indonesian investigators determine the cause to be the latter, demand for the Superjet 100 could be wiped out.
Sukhoi began the certification process in Indonesia last week, and the decision by the country's aviation authority will determine whether the Superjet 100 will be allowed to operate in Indonesian airspace. Indonesian airlines Sky Aviation and Kartika have already ordered 42 Superjet 100 aircraft, with the first delivery to Sky Aviation expected later this year.
The Superjet 100 was also certified by the Aviation Authority of Mexico in late April, allowing it to operate in the country without limitations. Mexican airline Interjet signed a contract with Sukhoi in January 2011 to purchase 15 Superjet 100 aircraft, and the delivery of the first aircraft is scheduled for the end of this year.