Just an hour before joint venture PowerJet
received formal European certification for its SaM146 engine
, its Russian manufacturer NPO Saturn explained - with remarkable frankness - why the programme was running two years behind schedule.
To bring the SaM146 programme into line the manufacturer had to draw up a "realistic timeframe", he says: "Right now we're following that schedule. The Russian state is providing great support."
With the mainstay Tupolev Tu-154 and Tu-134 fleet fading into retirement, and the encroachment of foreign-built regional jets into Russian fleets, the Superjet 100 and SaM146 programme is viewed as the best chance for the domestic commercial aircraft industry to regain its shaky footing.
But co-operating with Snecma has required a "change of mentality", says Fyodorov, to "turn our company into a Western company". Saturn recruited consultant McKinsey to assess its production processes and advise on lean manufacturing strategies to prepare the manufacture for meeting ramp-up demands.
"As soon as Russia starts working in the Soviet way it's a disaster for the company. The Russian system was disintegrated and now we have to integrate it again," Fyodorov says.
Sukhoi conceded late last year that its chances of delivering the first Superjets to Armavia and Aeroflot by the end of 2009 were slim, as production issues had a knock-on effect on the certification flight tests.
The airframer admitted earlier this year that the bottleneck in SaM146 engine supply meant it was having to make the most of a pool of test powerplants, to the extent of removing engines from one flight-test Superjet prototype to allow another to fly. Even the first serial production aircraft, it said, would have to be fitted with pre-production engines for ground tests.
But with the successful certification by the European Aviation Safety Agency on 23 June, and Russian approval set to follow, Fyodorov is optimistic that the situation is back under control. Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin toured the Saturn facility a few days earlier, following completion of the crucial blade-out and bird-ingestion tests on the SaM146.
"His estimation of progress is very high," says Fyodorov. "He is very happy that we did not let him down on the certification timeframe."
Approval from the government is crucial. Saturn, which is 88%-owned by the industrial holding Oboronprom, has laid out a need for Rb8.4 billion ($270 million) in funding to support increased production.
PowerJet is intending to deliver 13 serial production SaM146s to Sukhoi this year - one of which will be a spare - but Snecma's Petitcolin says that, in 2011, the venture is aiming to manufacture 30-50. "We hope for 50," he adds.
Fyodorov says: "Next year we hope to approach that level. We need only one thing - to get the money. There's a full explanation [to the state] for why we need it. We treat state financing very seriously and account for every penny."
Saturn's financial plan requires funding of Rb3.5 billion in the first year, Rb3.9 billion in the second and Rb1.9 billion in the third, he says: "After three years we're going to be a completely new company."
The company is forecasting a production output of up to 84 engines in 2011, increasing to 120 and then 150 in the following two years.
Saturn put a new training centre into operation in March, designed to turn out skilled workers in manufacturing as well as SaM146 maintenance activity - although Fyodorov also says that the firm is overstaffed by 15-20% and wants to cut its top management and retire its older personnel. "The company has to become younger," he says. "The average age is 43, we want to make it less than 40."
He says the cuts are necessary for the company's long-term survival but admits that while, in Moscow, "you can fire people and it's no problem", heavy job losses would amount to a "very serious social explosion" in a relatively small city such as Rybinsk, where SaM146 parts are machined and the engine has undergone testing.
PowerJet chief Jean-Paul Ebanga says that, following the "long and demanding journey" to EASA approval of the SaM146, production ramp-up is one of two areas on which the venture is focusing. The other is the preparation of entry into service and the establishment of a solid support network for the aircraft and its engines.
"It's a work in progress," he says, adding that the joint activities with airlines have already been initiated. The company is also finalising a spares warehouse in the Moscow area.
Deliveries of the first production engines to Sukhoi are to take place by the end of July.