The Sukhoi Superjet 100, the Russian jet which has gone missing in Indonesia, is a brand new passenger plane built by Russia in a bid to lift its civil aviation industry from a post-Soviet crisis.
The Superjet only made its first commercial flight last year and if a major accident is confirmed it would be the first disaster to involve the aircraft, which is made by legendary Russian planemakers Sukhoi.
The plane is crucial to Russia’s hopes of becoming a major player in the modern aviation market and improving its image in an industry scarred by frequent crashes of aging Soviet-era jets.
The mid-range Superjet airliner is designed to carry up to 98 passengers and is a direct rival of similar aircraft produced by Brazil’s Embraer and Canada’s Bombardier.
So far it is being flown by two airlines, Russia’s Aeroflot and Armenia’s Armavia, although orders have been confirmed with several more. Its first commercial flight was operated by Armavia in April 2011 and Aeroflot followed later that year.
The demonstration flight in Indonesia was part of a tour called Asian Roadshow aimed at promoting the aircraft abroad that started May 3 and earlier took in Kazakhstan and Pakistan. It was due to go on to Laos and Vietnam.
In August last year, Indonesian regional carrier Sky Aviation agreed to buy 12 of the planes, with deliveries due to begin in 2012.
The Superjet project is a joint venture between Sukhoi and Italy’s Alenia Aeronautica, which is part of the aerospace and defence giant Finmeccanica.
Alenia owns 25 percent plus one share of Sukhoi Civil Aircraft, the Sukhoi unit developing the jet, as well as 51 percent of Superjet International, which is handling sales of the aircraft.
However the plane has experienced problems while being flown by Russian flag carrier Aeroflot, which has been under heavy pressure from the government to add more Russian planes to its fleet.
In March, a plane had to cut short a scheduled flight after it encountered problems with its undercarriage. Aeroflot’s first Superjet plane also spent several weeks grounded upon delivery because of an air conditioning problem.
Sukhoi is a giant holding with a history going back to the 1930s in the Soviet Union. It employs 26,000 people and based in the remote Far Eastern city of Komsomolsk-on-Amur and also makes military fighter jets.