Why does the Arab Emirates need an EASA certificate for the SSJ100 aircraft

Photo by © UAC

At the end of winter 2023, news came from the United Arab Emirates that Abu Dhabi-based investor Mark AB Capital Investment and Italy’s SuperJet International signed a Memorandum of Understanding, which defined the terms of cooperation to organize the production of SSJ100 regional jets in Al Ain. It was also reported that UAC will transfer to Mark AB a 49% stake in the SuperJet International joint venture.

The memorandum envisages the construction of the final assembly line by mid-2025. In parallel, by 2026, SJI is to create in Italy and the UAE a new supply chain of components necessary for the entire cycle of work on the production of SSJ100 aircraft.

The news was unexpected and intriguing, as it implied the deployment of a new site for the production of the Russian aircraft in a few years in a completely exotic location. But at the same time many questions arose at once, which even today, after half a year, remain unanswered.

For example, the question of engines was completely silent. The French-Russian SaM146s have not been produced since last year. The Powerjet joint venture in Rybinsk received from the French company Snecma the hot part of the engine, which is a gas generator consisting of a high-pressure compressor, combustion chamber and high-pressure turbine. “ODK-Saturn” manufactured the “cold” part: the fan and low-pressure turbine, as well as performed the final assembly. After sanctions were imposed on the Russian civil aviation and aircraft industry, deliveries of components from France stopped, and the engine itself is not used anywhere except for the Superjet.

Of course, we can assume that the new Russian PD-8 engine is being used, but then additional certification of the aircraft in imported form with the new engine is required, or we need to negotiate with Snecma about resumption of SaM146 production entirely at the company’s facilities in France. For objective reasons, both the first and second assumptions are hypothetical and unlikely to be realized: the PD-8 is not yet ready for production in large series and has not even been tested on the aircraft itself, only on a flying laboratory, and Snecma may not be interested in producing an engine designed for only one type of aircraft, and a relatively small series for the company would be uninteresting from an economic point of view.

Also in France, a Michelin line that produced tires specifically for the Superjet was shut down in 2022. Here the situation looks a bit simpler. Tires for the SJ-100 aircraft will be produced by the Yaroslavl Tire Plant. In this case, the Russian company could be one of the suppliers of components for the SSJ100, but so far the issue of tires as well as engines has not been voiced.

But perhaps the most vague situation that has arisen this spring is the SSJ100 certification. The type certificate now belongs to the Yakovlev company. At the time of writing this article, the certificate issued to Irkut Corporation was still posted on Rosaviatsia’s website; it will soon be reissued to a new owner. In 2022, following the EU sanctions restrictions, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) suspended the type certificate for the SSJ100, hence the European skies are closed for it, and in order to lift the ban, it is necessary to change the owner of the certificate. Without this, the deal to sell UAC’s stake in SuperJet International will not take place. Mark AB Capital may become the new owner of the certificate.

Thus, it turns out that the Arab investment fund, after launching the assembly line in Al Ain and acquiring the type certificate for the SSJ100, will become a full-fledged aircraft manufacturer – the first to produce passenger airplanes in the Middle East. This is prestigious, it is an image and authority – the United Arab Emirates will join the small circle of countries that have the competencies and capabilities to produce high-tech aircraft.

Such a step is in line with the UAE’s desire to diversify its industry and develop knowledge-intensive industries with a gradual reduction of dependence on oil trade. But the process of launching serial production of airplanes and transferring the type certificate from the previous owner will require a lot of time and the solution of a huge number of bureaucratic intergovernmental issues. For example, it will be necessary to translate all design documentation from Russian into Arabic or English, as the owner of the type certificate must have at his disposal all the design documentation for the aircraft.

And here comes the key question: why does the UAE need an EASA certificate for the SSJ100 aircraft?

The existing certificate of the Interstate Aviation Committee is validated in some friendly countries. Besides, there are a number of countries loyal to Russia in Africa, Asia and Latin America, which could validate the IAC type certificate, and there are enough people willing to fly the Superjet, especially now, when it suddenly turned out that it has excellent flight hours, comfortable cabin, convenient controls and everything works.

At the same time, four SSJ100 airplanes are “hanging” in Venice, and it would be quite logical for an Arab investor to get these airplanes and use them in one of the countries friendly to Russia, and as the recent 15th BRICS summit showed, there are many such countries. This will give Mark AB Capital an opportunity to gain experience in the operation of modern passenger aircraft, to understand all the problem areas in the organization of passenger transportation, logistics, maintenance and repair, training of specialists for its design bureau, engineers and pilots for testing, instructors for personnel training, as well as for solving other issues related to the design, construction and operation of SSJ100. And then, with the accumulated knowledge and competencies, to develop the aircraft industry in the UAE.

And what is most remarkable is that all this will not require an EASA certificate. It is needed only in case of cooperation between Mark AB Capital and SJI, and if the Arab investor will act independently, he does not need the Italians, everything can be realized without them. The type certificate is available, Russia will help with the construction of the plant and setting up production, UAC has good experience in organizing large-scale production of Su-30MKI aircraft in India.

It is illogical to launch production of Superjet in cooperation with Italy, which is unfriendly to us, even if we have an interested company there, and such an attempt looks completely unrealistic. Superjet International is interested in a rich Arab investor solely for self-survival, because anti-Russian sanctions have had a much stronger negative impact on SJI than on Irkut or UAC.

Answering the question posed in the title of the article, we can state the fact that the European type certificate for the SSJ100 airplane is not very much needed by the Arab investment fund. The existing alternative way of Russian-Arab cooperation takes into account the interests of both the UAE and Russia, and will be beneficial to both parties.

Andrei Velichko
for the Russian Aviation website

Comment on Linkedin:

Darren Straker, T/Pilot (CAR/CS 25), Aircraft Level Design
Topical as this subject has appeared in relation to BRICS with a regional cooperation. There are both a Russian and Chinese engine in flight test at the moment; the other minor design issues are all relatively straight forward to manage.

The subject of EASA CS-25 certification based on a UAE GCAA part 25 certification can be arranged via a BASE with a rule change.

Diversification from the western dominated supply chain and opening potential markets in Africa and more importantly Iran, opens the scope for 500+ aircraft.

Smart move by the UAE and an interesting regional Geo Economic shift.