Russian aircraft and helicopter manufacturers are making a strong bid for a foothold in the Australian market as part of a much larger effort by the country’s government-backed aerospace industry to re-establish a global presence.
In one sign of the effort’s prominence, Russia’s ambassador to Australia, Vladimir Morozov, attended a round-table on Wednesday at Avalon during which Russian aviation manufacturers outlined their products and discussed issues of mutual interest to the Russian and Australian aviation communities.
Regional Aviation Association of Australia chairman Jeff Boyd, who attended the meeting, said the Russian companies appeared extremely motivated to get their products into the Australian market. “The Russians are very, very keen,” he said. But Boyd acknowledged that the companies still faced obstacles.
“The impression of Russian engineering in Australia hasn’t been really good,” he said. “So people want to see their products get out there and get established. That’s really their biggest hurdle, to get the product out there in the region.”
Boyd said the headline Russian offering – the 100-seat Sukhoi Superjet – could hold some real appeal for operators of fly-in fly-out (FIFO) services in particular. “A lot of the FIFO aircraft are, in general, a bit older. So there might be an opening there,” he said.
Igor Syrtsov, Sukhoi’s Senior vice president for customer affairs, said the company was targeting both the FIFO and regional aviation markets and indicated a willingness to be aggressive on pricing. “The price is not so important,” he said. “In addition, our operational and maintenance costs are much lower than the competition.”
Syrtsov said the Superjet offered the range to fly anywhere in Australia with a level of comfort and technology similar to the newest jumbo jets like the Airbus A380 and Boeing 787. “Imagine that in a regional aircraft,” he said.
But the Superjet program has been marred by a number of high-profile problems that may scare off potential Australian customers at least until it is better established. Though a fatal Superjet crash during a demonstration flight in Indonesia last year has been blamed on pilot error, Russia’s Aeroflot earlier this month grounded four of its 10 Superjets over technical problems.
Syrtsov dismissed those incidents as ordinary growing pains less serious than those encountered by Boeing’s 787 and said the delivery of the first of 12 Superjets to Indonesia’s Sky Aviation this week represented an opportunity to begin building the jet’s reputation regionally and internationally.
“Our experience operating in countries (outside Russia) will be an opportunity for all countries to see what our product can do,” he said. “We don’t have a lot of experience presenting our product in the Australian market, but during this visit we can see that it’s a very suitable product for this country.”
While Syrtsov acknowledged that it might take some time to win over the Australian market, he said the company was also exploring opportunities to partner with Australian companies on the manufacture of parts and information technology solutions that could bear fruit more quickly.
“We are open to all kinds of opportunities to build our presence in this market,” he said.
On the rotorcraft side of the airshow, Russian Helicopters was also making a strong pitch for its Kamov Ka-32 multipurpose helicopter. The firefighting variant of the helicopter, the Ka-32A11BC, won certification from CASA this week, an important milestone.
“The Australian aviation regulator’s recognition of the helicopter’s capabilities opens up a new and promising market,” Russian helicopters said in a statement highlighting this summer’s Australian bushfires. “The Ka-A11BC can tackle virtually all types of fires both on the ground and in high-rise buildings.”
In the short-term, the Kamov is seen as far more likely than the Superjet to make its presence felt in Australia. Russian Helicopters says 188 Kamov firefighting helicopters currently operate in more than 12 countries including Russia, Canada, Spain and China.