Gym-With-Wings Gets Shown Off in Rio as Sukhoi Woos Pro Athletes

  • Russian planemaker pitches custom jet on Embraer’s home turf
  • Sports-team features to include exercise bikes, massage beds

Russia’s Sukhoi Civil Aircraft is venturing onto a rival’s home turf to pitch a luxury jet at the Rio de Janeiro Summer Olympics, courting sports teams with features such as onboard exercise bikes and massage tables.

With a market for chartered athletic flights topping $600 million annually just in the U.S., Sukhoi sees demand for customized planes for sports professionals who travel as much as half the year, said Vice President Evgeny Andrachnikov. A model of the SportJet, based on Sukhoi’s Superjet, is on display in Rio for Olympic delegations and sports executives from across the globe.

Sukhoi’s SportJet with feature seats that monitor heart rate, hydration and oxygen levels.

Source: Sukhoi

“We deserve that spot in the sun, even if it’s under the Brazilian sun,” Andrachnikov said in an interview at the Russian delegation’s guest house on the edge of Rio’s Copacabana beach.

Sukhoi’s visit to the world’s pre-eminent international sporting event escalates its competition with Embraer SA, the civilian- and military-jet maker that is one of Brazil’s flagship manufacturers. Moscow-based Sukhoi began test flying its Superjet 100 in 2008, edging into the regional-aircraft market in which Embraer has grown dominant over one-time leader Bombardier Inc.

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For athletes, the SportJet will be fitted with exercise bicycles, massage beds and seats that monitor heart rate, hydration and oxygen levels. Coaches and athletes can review matches while huddling around a small table with a wide-screen television. More-modest seating is available for administrative staff. Sukhoi unveiled the model earlier this year.

Sukhoi plans to deliver its first SportJet as soon as late 2017.

Superjet’s Competitors

Sukhoi’s commercial Superjet is flown by carriers including Mexico’s Interjet, which started using the plane in 2013, and Irish carrier CityJet, which began operations with it this year. Configured to carry 93 people, the Superjet is roughly the same size as Embraer’s best-selling E-jet family -- and the upgraded E2 due later this decade -- and the smallest version of Bombardier’s new C Series.

Embraer said in an e-mail that its line of commercial jets provide flexibility, and that it has customized aircraft for clients including the Brazilian government. Montreal-based Bombardier didn’t respond to an e-mailed request for comment.

Russia’s growing soccer and hockey leagues are natural clients for the SportJet, Andrachnikov said.

“Charter budgets are fat,” Andrachnikov said. “We can go after the leagues themselves, or we can go after the owners of teams one by one. These aircraft will offer higher quality for less money.”

While Sukhoi isn’t quoting a price for the sports model, a 10-plane Superjet order by Interjet was listed at $350 million in 2015. Analysts have estimated the SportJet may sell for about $30 million.

Models in use by athletics teams now have more seats than they need and weigh more than a SportJet, leading to higher airport fees and operating costs, Andrachnikov said. Rising spending by sports leagues in Russia and China offer Sukhoi a chance to expand sales in the “buyers’ market” for regional jets, he said.

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