Moskovia’s pilot: What is Superjet for rookie pilots?
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This is a translation of the original article in Russian

Moskovia’s pilot Dmitry FokinDmitry Fokin has compiled a detail report about different types of aircraft a rookie pilot might encounter with, while building his career path from local to regional aviation. And why the Superjet 100 is the right choice for such a pilot to start with.

As per request of readers, I will try to add some details to the comments I have posted in the Livejornal: “At the beginning of my search I knew nothing about the Superjet, back then only Aeroflot had these planes and I even did not think about it. Now, after I’ve started to learn to fly it, I understand that it is one of the most interesting and promising aircraft to start pilot’s career with”.

What options the rookie pilots have after they received their pilot licenses? Keeping in mind recent amendments to the legal requirements for pilots with less than 1000 hours of flight time, starting from May, 2013, such pilots can fly only aircraft with total weight up to 90 tons. This requirement excludes not only wheel horses like Boeing 757/767/747, Airbus A330, Tu-204 but also partly A320s.

Most companies with A320s in fleets also have A321s with MTOW more than 90 tons (North Wind, UTAIR, S7). Therefore they do not want to hire pilots with less than 1000 flight hours, because if you flew A320 to the destination point, and for the return trip an A321 is assigned, you cannot fly it back. The only other option is Boeing 737; any of its series is less than 90 tons MTOW. So what do we have?

Let's have a look at our options:

1. Old Soviet aircraft (Yak-40, TU-134, TU-154, An-24/26)

This group of aircraft is out of question. These planes are of obsolete design, close to the end of their lifespan and really used only in far corners of the country. Companies (air company Cosmos etc), operating such planes, seldom use them in Moscow airports, additionally there is no shortage of crews: a lot of pilots flew these planes since 1990-s and did not want or could not learn to fly new types of aircraft.

Another obvious disadvantage of these airplanes is unclear and unpredictable operating conditions (The CEOs and owners of air companies are reluctant to invest substantial money into proper repair and maintenance of old planes, which were acquired almost for nothing. It’s cheaper to use second hand spare parts from used aircraft scattered across the country, or scrap off the airplane altogether, if it cannot fly any longer).

The third disadvantage – the crew consists of more than 2 pilots (up to 5 crew members – captain, co-pilot, radio operator, flight engineer and navigator) and re-certification for new type of aircraft in the future will start entirely from scratch, leaving aside previous experience as irrelevant. The last drawback is the lack of “glass cockpit” (Small clarification for the reader: the” glass cockpit” is a cockpit equipped with modern LCDs, all flight info is displayed on electronic screens, not on classic gauges). The biggest air companies, in Russia as well as abroad, will not consider pilots without “glass cockpit” experience for large aircraft vacancies.

Photo: The "glass cockpit" of the Superjet and the classic cockpit of An-24…
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Today the start of the career on such type of aircraft is a waste of time and health (noise pollution is higher comparing to modern airplanes) and constant mental stress (work far away from home, no job security, small salary)

2. Obsolete imported aircraft (CRJ-200, ATR-72, Dash8 Q400, Boeing-737 Classic – from 737-200 to 737-500).

This list promises more to the pilot, but it also has its share of drawbacks. Some aircraft (ATR-72 and Dash8-400) are designed for 2 member crew, but turboprop experience will not necessarily make a headline in pilot’s CV. Additionally only two Russian air lines have such types of planes: UTair uses ATR and Yakutia uses Dash8 Q400. Both aircraft have short operational range (ATR – 1300 km, Dash8 Q400 – 2500 km), they are used on regional routes with home airports located in small cities. Yakutia has its operational base (for such airplanes) outside of Moscow. UTair would consider pilots from the bottom of training class to man the aircraft

Photo: АTR / CRJ
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CRJ-200 is used abroad as a trainer jet for cadet pilots and most of the pilots started their careers on this aircraft. Several Russian companies (UTair, Severstal, Ak-Bars/Tatarstan, Rusline and others) successfully use the aircraft. The plane is very good; all pilots with CRJ experience say it’s the most suitable jet to start with. The plane is equipped with “glass cockpit”, but it also has its weak points (but one can hardly call them “weak”): with 50 seat passenger capacity it has operational range of 2000 km, which is not too impressive, although it is still more than other turbo props can do.

Short range and small seat number would define “dull” route map: destinations in Russian regions and very often not through Moscow. Flying such routes inevitably will cause pilot’s English to die out and occasional reading of tech manuals will not help much.

I was considering the employment by UTair as a starting point, because UTair uses these aircraft on routes from Vnukovo to ex-USSR destinations and only pilots with the best marks from Tyumen training class can man the planes.

Boeing 737-200/500. This is very reliable and time proven airplane (production started in 1967 and according to Wikipedia the 737 series is the best-selling jet airliner in the history of aviation). It has only one disadvantage: old style cockpit. It has a feature, some pilots would consider as “ major advantage”: classic flight controls, not a joystick style handle. Rumours say that the joystick became the main obstacle for some co-pilots tried to get to the captain’s seat, because they could not drive the stick with left hand as good as they did so with right hand seating in co-pilot’s seat. Additionally Boeing has its own ergonomics, which does not match Airbus setup (and I would consider the Superjet to be a part of Airbus vision).

And I like the Airbus ergonomics much better: dark cabin, structured and easy-to-read overhead panel, sidestick, Fly-by-wire, malfunction alarms displayed on the screens together with check- lists to fix the possible problems. UTair and Transaero hire pilots to operate these aircraft, and the route map is extensive. Up to now Transaero pilots with 737-classic certificate would fly only this series, but UTair pilots receive permit for both 737 classic and B737 NG (new generation). As I wrote before I was not hired by Transaero, and I decided not to wait for UTair’s offer because training there would take much longer than in Moskovia.

3. New imported aircraft («heavy» А320, Boeing-737 NG, and «light» - Cessna Grand Caravan)

Photo: Boeing / Cessna Grand Caravan
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Starting with the last one… I did not consider Cessna Grand Caravan as a good case scenario because of its obvious drawbacks: only one engine (apart from safety considerations it is not good for CV: not only large, but also medium air companies require flying experience with two engine aircraft), low flying altitude of 3-4 km (the cabin is not pressurized) instead of 10-13 km for larger airplanes, regional status of the aircraft: short operational range and domestic flights only. 2-3 Russian companies have Cessna in fleets, and employment conditions there are not the most attractive ones.

A320 and B-737NG are the best choice from the listed above, but employment is offered by limited number of companies. In my case I was not selected for A319 by VIM-Avia, and for 737NG by Yakutia. I have mentioned UTair before: employment with this company would be my preferred choice if not the very slim chance to be drafted for B737 (previously it was impossible in UTair to be drafted as 737 pilot with less than 500 hours of flight time. Despite that such possibility was mentioned during job interview, but I did not dare to check it, because for sure there were some “old hands”, who could claim to be chosen for B737 job without going through fair selection and my training course marks would not affect the final decision. There are no drawbacks for those two aircraft, A320 and 737 are major wheel horses of civil aviation and pilots wait for years to flight these airplanes on international routes.

4. Sukhoi Superjet SSJ-100 (RRJ-95B).

There is not much to say about disadvantages, and I think there will be no reasons for that in the future. Of course the small number of aircraft in active service and mass production still to-be- started would affect the pilot’s perception. There will be prolonged period of design polishing, improvement and adjustment (as it is for any other aircraft, A320 and B737 included) to make the production cheaper, to increase seat capacity and flight range, to reduce service cost.

It really does not bother me if the Superjet is Russian or foreign made, from my personal point of view everyone shall do what they do best, and the story of the Soviet aviation industry proves that. No need to produce something which is produced already somewhere else at the less cost with a higher quality. The Soviet air industry was up to the world standards and I am glad to see the revival of a modern civil aircraft production in Russia.

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I’d like to remind that the main production facility is located in Komsomolsk-on-Amur, a paint shop and a cabin furnishing facility are in Ulyanovsk (some planes being painted in Venice) and a final stage shop is in Zhukovsky. New jobs, international cooperation (overall consulting by Boeing; flight electronics and simulators by Thales; engines by Saturn-Snecma joint venture, and Snecma in its turn together with GE is the engine supplier for Airbus), the European certification will be used in further development of SSJ and other Sukhoi’s projects (MC-21), keeping the Russian air industry afloat. The very same air industry was quite successful in Soviet era times and now can contribute to the country’s development.

But enough “lyrics”, it is not what I am writing about. What can the SSJ offer to a rookie pilot?


  • Big seat capacity (up to 98 passengers), a comfortable cabin. We became pilots not to fly ourselves between cities, but to fly passengers home, to holiday or business destinations etc. More passengers mean more benefit to air industry and bigger pilot’s ego. A passenger’s feedback is positive so far, because SSJ provides more personal space for an air traveller comparing to the competitors (for Russian market SSJ’s competitors are CRJ-200 and ATR, since the similar size Embraer-145 is seldom used in our country and Bombardier CSeries has not entered production stage yet) and often even more than Boeing /Airbus can offer.
  • Operational range (up to 3050 km for standard series and 4500 for Long Range). A bigger range means extended route map. Keeping in mind Moskovia’s plan to add new routes from Belgorod to Prague, Munich and Erevan ( to existing flights to Stavropol and Tivat, one can expect interesting flights with intensive radio exchange in English with ground flight controls, which would help to upkeep language skills.
  • Training and certification in Russia (of course it would be preferable to go to Venice for training, such trip would improve the language skills and widen horizons, but in the same time training in Russia means no need to stay away from family for 1.5 month) Zhukovsky Superjet Int Training facility is modern and comfortable. FFS is up to date and we start using it in next 2 weeks ( during second half of the training we will operate it without “full motion”)
  • FCOM in Russian. Thanks to my decent technical English I wouldn’t encounter any problems if training is commenced in English, anyway FCOM in Russian makes the understanding of system’s functioning easier. CBT is in English only, this is an extra reason for cadets with poor language skills to practice English: first they read Russian manual and then do the CBT. At the end of the day they get clear knowledge of system functions + learn it’s English description

In our class we have 2 experienced pilots with thousands of flight hours flown on IL-76 and I am sure the training is easier for them due to Russian FCOM. It is a major advantage not only for recent Russian flight school graduates but also for experienced pilots seeking recertification. For those who flown Soviet planes for years and still have desire to pilot modern aircraft, training would pose some difficulties, because pilot skills required by SSJ (for instance landing) differs from what they are used to, because some functions on IL-76 were executed by other crew members (radio exchange, navigation, FMS)

Again, I am sure the training is not so difficult as it would be for any other foreign aircraft. At the final exam with an Italian assessor those two guys will have no language problems.
UTair has ordered 10 new airplanes to be delivered in 2014, the company has plans to retire old Soviet planes in upcoming years, and many seasoned crews will have to go thru re-certification to pilot modern aircraft. And if the company has enough SSJs in its fleet, more old pilots will go for recertification instead of seeking early retirement.

  • Glass cockpit and modern electronics. A pilot with A320 license easily can master SSJ training, Aeroflot employs several (maybe dozen) pilots which hold both A320 and RRJ-95B licenses. And vice versa, the pilot of SSJ easily can switch to Airbus (not only 320, but also 330, because both series are identical in cabin design and avionics). FMS functional possibilities sometimes are better and wider than A320’s (despite the fact that unit manufacturer is the same, French Thales). Please do not forget that time passes and A320 maiden flight was in 1988, SSJ flew for first time in 2008. 20 years in aviation is a great time gap and many inventions and devices unseen in 1998 are implemented in SSJ design.

This is a personal opinion I shaped during my job search and training sessions. At some point this opinion might appear naïve or faulty to the reader and because of that I would welcome any reader’s comments on the questions covered in the article.

Аutor: Dmitry Fokin / Дмитрий Фокин

Main Dmitry's page on our site —

Source (in Russian)

13 Mar 2014 10:50

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