There are three major airlines in Ireland – Aer Lingus, Ryanair and CityJet. You would be forgiven for not knowing CityJet as it is the smallest of the three carriers both in fleet size and network size.
CityJet currently operates a fleet of 18 aging Avro RJ85 aircraft from its main base at London City Airport. From there it has routes to Dublin, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Antwerp, Nantes, Paris Orly, Florence as well as some seasonal routes. Air France/KLM has an extensive codeshare agreement with the airline on a variety of its own routes out of London City Airport also.
The RJ85 fleet has an average age of over 17 years, so CityJet entered into an agreement with SuperJet International to lease 15 SuperJet SSJ100 aircraft and option 16 more. This means CityJet will be the first European operator of the aircraft and the second Western airline to operate the aircraft after Mexico’s Interjet.
The SuperJet is a Russian built aircraft designed and manufactured by Sukhoi, a major aircraft manufacturer with extensive experience building military aircraft. The SuperJet is their first civilian project. SuperJet International is the Italian-Russian company that markets the aircraft in the West. A number of Western suppliers are responsible for a variety of systems on the aircraft as you can see in the graphic below.
In CityJet configuration, the aircraft will seat 98 passengers in a 5 abreast configuration with 32″ seat pitch. The first aircraft was delivered in May 2016 and the airline plans to use the aircraft initially for charter operations with the plan to eventually use them for flights from London City airport, replacing the Avro RJ85 fleet.
Before this can happen, the aircraft will have to be certified for London City Airport. London City Airport requires a special steep approach of 5.5 degrees for aircraft operating there due to its central location in London. Sukhoi expect to gain this certification in 2017 and CityJet plan to operate the aircraft to London City in 2018. The aircraft will have software changes and winglets installed to facilitate the steep approach capability.
The aircraft has performed very well for Mexico’s Interjet, with at least one online review reporting the only noticeable difference compared to Western built aircraft being a higher level of cabin noise. As the flights that CityJet operate are short hops, it is unlikely this is going to cause any issues with the paying public.
It is interesting that it is taking so long for this aircraft to be accepted in the West as the same kind of thing happened with revolutionary aircraft like the Airbus A300 when they were first introduced. Airlines are slow to change to “unknown” companies and often have a lot invested in the status quo. Airbus and Boeing are also known to be very flexible on pricing when trying to keep a competitor at bay, though there is no evidence this has happened with the SuperJet.
I’m quite excited by the fact that this aircraft has been selected by an Irish airline. I’ve never had the pleasure of flying on a Russian built aircraft and I am looking forward to flying on board and experiencing it for myself. I’ve only flown CityJet once in my life, so I imagine my second time will be on the SuperJet SSJ100. It will certainly provide a nice contrast to the many Boeing and Airbus aircraft throughout Europe!