Russian Superjet-100 (SSJ100) is believed to be the new hope of Russian plane-making including the international market. At least this is the picture that Russian media and aviation officials want us to think. However, the pr campaign seems to yield quite mysterious results.
The story began in 2010 at the previous Farnborough air show where a new Bermuda-based leasing company Pearl Aircraft Corporation announced memorandum of understanding to purchase 30 Sukhoi Superjet aircraft plus 15 options.
The Russian media sent confused signals by calling Pearl either a «10-year old American leasing company» or a «new Bermuda airlines». The fact is it is neither, but a new Bermuda lessor founded in 2009. Its website is quite sterile mentioning no particulars of any orders or certain types of planes it leases. And while being registered in the Bermuda Islands the company is head-quartered in Colorado.
In autumn 2010 another memorandum was signed, between SuperJet International (Sukhoi’s joint venture with Italian Alenia Aeronautica) and an American (this time no Bermuda trace) leasing company Willis Lease Finance Corporation to purchase 6 Superjet aircraft plus 4 options.
What the journalists failed to observe was that Willis Lease Finance does not lease planes, it provides aircraft engines and spare parts. There is no mentioning of the said memorandum on the company’s website. Just like both deals — with Pearl and Willis — have never surfaced again in the media.
At Farnborough 2012 Russian lessor Ilyushin Finance Co. signed an agreement with South American Aircraft Leasing Company (Panama) to deliver 3 Antonov-148/158 with 12 options to South America, where South American Aircraft Leasing would lease them to prospective clients.
The only problem with this agreement is that there is no such company as South American Aircraft Leasing. Unlike Pearl Aircraft and Willis Lease Finance the new partner is a mystery or a piece of pr-fiction that is distributed exclusively within Russia to boost the hopes.¹
One final stroke in this story lies with the person who signed the contract on behalf of South American, Ralf-Dieter Montag-Girmes. In 1998 Mr. Montag-Girmes was the foreign auditor of the Russian Inkombank that went bankrupt. It seems quite a fascinating career from the auditor to the chief of a leasing company (if it exists).
What we see in this chain of suspicious deals is the attempt to paint a bright picture of the Russian plane’s international success. The information is almost exclusively for the internal consumption. But the story also raises questions about the possible money-laundering through offshore companies and the dubious marketing strategies.
Superjet-100 is already being sold to Mexico, Indonesia, India, Laos, Armenia and Russian airlines, while Antonov-148 flies in Russia. Why make up stories that raise questions and undermine the reputation?
¹ A year after publishing this post I received a comment from Mr. Montag-Girmes:
Dear Madam, Sir, please note that I never was the Auditor of Inkombank – something you may easily check by checking filed annual reports . In fact, I was advising some of the shareholders and creditors on restricturing Options after the license had been withdrawn. With regard to AN 158 please note that we delivered the first aircraft to Cubana de Aviacion on 25.4. and will shortly deliver the next plane. Please correct your web entries accordingly and do not hesitate to contact me with any additional information you may require for correction of your erroneous article. Thank you. RD Montag-Girmes
However, at the time of publishing SAALCO was a mystery (no website or mentioning in Panama files), and Mr. Montag-Girmes was mentioned as an auditor for Inkombank in numerous open sources.