Russian Aircraft Vanishes From Radar During Promotional Flight
A Sukhoi Superjet 100 taking part in the 48th Paris Air Show on June 17, 2009. A Russian Sukhoi plane with 46 people on board has gone missing over Indonesia, officials said on May 9, 2012.
Russian and Indonesian authorities confirmed the loss of contact with the crew of the airplane, the Superjet 100 manufactured by Sukhoi, Russia’s major aircraft company, during a flight that departed from Halim airport in Jakarta, the Indonesian capital, and was to return to the same location 50 minutes later.
The Russia Today news Web site said that 50 people were aboard the plane, including eight Russians and 36 citizens from other countries, mostly airline representatives interested in buying it. The Superjet 100 is the first newly designed passenger jet made in Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The plane vanished soon after the pilot requested permission to descend, a spokesman for the Russian Embassy in Indonesia told the Interfax news agency.
The agency also cited an unidentified spokesman for the Russian Transportation Ministry saying that a preflight check had turned up nothing suspicious, a standard assurance offered by Russian transportation authorities after mishaps.
“The plane was absolutely flightworthy,” the spokesman said.
Gagah Prakoso, a spokesman for Indonesia’s national search and rescue service, said the plane disappeared from radar around Bogor, a mountainous area about 50 miles south of Jakarta, and that 200 police officers and rescue workers were sent to the area to search. “We are still looking for it and we are uncertain whether it crashed,” he was quoted by Agence France-Presse as saying.
Much of Russia’s hopes of reviving its commercial aerospace industry are staked on this new model of aircraft. Though it has a storied history of technical accomplishments, the industry has been plagued by safety problems, breakdowns and lethal crashes. Russian manufacturers like Tupolev, Antonov and Ilyushin have found it all but impossible to sell their commercial aircraft anywhere but in the former Soviet Union, Iran, Cuba and a few parts of Africa.
To combat the image problem, Sukhoi, which is better known for its military fighters, has highlighted its partnership with Western companies in its marketing efforts for the Superjet. Alenia Aeronautica, a division of the Italian engineering giant Finmeccanica, owns about 25 percent of the Superjet program and is helping to market the plane in Western Europe, North and South America, Japan and Australia through a subsidiary based in Venice, Superjet International. Sukhoi consulted with Boeing on after-sale service, and installed avionics from the French company Thales.
The list price for the chubby single-aisle aircraft, which seats about 100, is $31.7 million, roughly two-thirds the price of comparable short-hop jets made by its main competitors, Embraer of Brazil and Bombardier of Canada.
The Superjet is Sukhoi’s only commercial product. Eight of the planes are in service now, and the company has said it has orders for 200 more; it hopes to sell about 1,000 of the planes over the next two decades and to secure a 20 percent share of the global market for jets in the 100-seat category, which Embraer and Bombardier now dominate.
But the Superjet seemed afflicted with safety lapses from early on.
When it entered commercial service last year with Aeroflot, Russia’s national airline, the first plane was promptly grounded because of a sensor that detects leaks in the pipes that funnel fresh air into the cabin had broken down.
As the jet entered production, the Russian television station NTV reported that 70 engineers at the plant making the Superjet had obtained fake engineering diplomas by bribing a local technical college. Sukhoi said those employees were not directly involved in assembling the planes.
Also of concern for prospective buyers, the finished planes turned out to weigh two tons more than the initial estimates that were presented to airlines, based on engineering designs. The extra weight hurts the aircrarft’s fuel economy, making them less attractive. Sukhoi has said such deviations are typical for new aircraft.
Last week Sukhoi began a six-nation road show of presentations to Asian airline executives about the plane, and it had already made stops in Kazakhstan, Myanmar and Pakistan. Wednesday’s flight in Indonesia was to have been followed by visits to Laos and Vietnam.
Russian aviation has had a particularly rough time in recent years. About 400 people died in Tupolev jet crashes in Russia and Ukraine in 2006. Last year, a Tupolev Tu-134 crashed while approaching a provincial airfield, killing most of the 52 people aboard, and a Yakovlev jet chartered by the Lokomotiv hockey team crashed in Yaroslavl, killing most of the team. The latest lethal crash in Russia, in April, involved a French-made turboprop airplane on a short-hop flight in Siberia.
Russian Aircraft Vanishes
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