Posted on: 29 October 2014 by Mark Howells
VLM Airlines and Ilyushin Finance Company (IFC) have signed a Letter of Intent for the airline to take delivery of two Sukhoi Superjet 100 LR (long-range) aircraft, which will make VLM the first European operator of the type.
Under the terms of the LOI, VLM Airlines will take delivery of two SSJ100 LR aircraft in April 2015 under a 12-year operating lease, with options for two further aircraft. The deal also includes purchase rights for ten aircraft.
Arthur White, CEO of VLM Airlines (below left with Alexander Rubtsov, CEO of IFC), commented, “While VLM Airlines will continue offering ACMI and charter services with our Fokker 50 fleet, we see an exciting opportunity as a niche scheduled operator. The Sukhoi Superjet 100 LR fits our new strategy perfectly, with its exceptional efficiency and performance, advanced fly-by-wire technologies and spacious cabin.
“This is a significant deal for IFC and the SSJ100 programme, as it represents our first customer in Europe, which we are delighted about,” remarked Alexander Rubtsov, CEO of IFC. “After intense competition and a detailed review, we are extremely pleased that VLM Airlines has chosen to base its future operation on the SSJ100 LR. We believe the aircraft will not only enable VLM Airlines to exceed its growth plans but will also give Europe a live insight into the excellent capabilities and passenger appeal of the SSJ100, which represents a truly cost-effective regional aircraft solution.”
White’s colleague, Steve Blair, VLM’s COO and accountable manager, explained that the target date for the LOI to be converted into a full lease agreement is the end of November. The completed agreement will include the decision dates for confirmation of the two options that the airline has.
“As for delivery of the two firm aircraft, we’re aiming to receive the first in early April and the second by the end of the month,” Blair added. “We’re looking at a couple of options for the configuration, but it’s likely to be around 12-14 business class and 74 economy class.” Although he was unable to reveal the equipment the airline is lining up, Blair declared that it is VLM’s intention to outfit the aircraft “to meet all the [customer] needs” for inflight entertainment and internet connectivity.
The COO also pointed out that at present the SSJ100 LR, capable of flying 4,500 km, is not EASA certified. “The versions we will receive for the start-up will be the Basic version with a 3,000 km range. EASA certification for the LR should be completed towards the end of the 2015 summer season, around September/October. The aircraft will then be updated to the LR configuration which involves modifications to the fuel tanks and some other ‘hard’ mods, which according to Sukhoi Civil Aircraft Company (SCAC) are minor. There will also be winglets involved too,” Blair noted.
The routes VLM will operate with the SSJ100s are to be announced later, but Blair remarked that “anywhere within 4,500 km of Antwerp” was possible. One airport to which VLM is not currently expecting to operate the aircraft is London City, but the contingency is there. “Part of the lease agreement is to include the capability to operate the aircraft into London City, but under current planning we’re unlikely to fly it there,” he confirmed.
Pilot training will take place at Superjet International’s facility in Venice. “We expect the first courses to begin by mid-December. Those who apply to train to fly this aircraft are not likely to see home much during the Christmas and New Year period,” quipped Blair. “We need to be ready because we want to fly the aircraft around 300 hours a month.”
Bernie Baldwin, editor, Low-Fare & Regional Airlines/LARAnews.net