Putin’s Aerospace Rebirth Ambition Hangs on SuperJet Crash Probe

By Anna Shiryaevskaya and Andrea Rothman – Fri May 11 20:01:00 GMT 2012

Alexey Druzhinin/AFP/GettyImages

Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Russian President Vladimir Putin. Photographer: Alexey Druzhinin/AFP/GettyImages

President Vladimir Putins ambition to revive Russias aerospace industry will hang on one question dominating the Sukhoi Superjet crash probe in Indonesia this week: pilot or plane?

Investigators have located the remains of the 90-seat Russian-built aircraft that crashed into a mountainside on May 9 with 45 people on board. Salvage crews also spotted the flight recorder, which may offer vital clues to the cause of the crash, after the same jet had performed flawlessly on earlier flights piloted by an expert crew.

Theres a very good chance this crash wasnt related to the design of the plane, but battling negative perceptions is very difficult, said Richard Aboulafia, vice president of Teal Group in Fairfax, Virgina, an aviation consulting company.

At stake is Russias attempt to reassert itself on the global aviation scene after a two-decade absence in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union. The SuperJet, which carries about 100 passengers, was designed with Western partners and equipped with cutting-edge systems, as Russia seeks to win a slice of the regional jet market now dominated by incumbents Bombardier Inc (BBD/B) and Embraer SA (EMBR3) of Brazil.

The Superjet that crashed was on a promotional tour of Asian nations. The same plane had already ferried other potential customers and reporters on flights in Myanmar, Pakistan and Kazakhstan and was scheduled to move on to Laos and Vietnam. Hours earlier, Putin hailed Russian military and industrial might at a Red Square parade in Moscow to honor the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany in World War II.

The twin-engine aircraft is the centerpiece of Putins attempt to revive a manufacturing industry that has languished since communism collapsed in 1991. The SuperJet, which Russia spent about $1.4 billion developing with an Italian partner, Rome-based Finmeccanica SpA (FNC)s Alenia Aeronautica SpA, has a range of 4,600 kilometers (2,800 miles) and comes with a price tag of $35 million, according to the manufacturer.

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Putin’s Aerospace Rebirth Ambition Hangs on SuperJet Crash Probe

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