The Tupolev Tu-204 was one of the last aircraft to be developed by the Soviet Union in the late 1980’s as a direct competitor to the Boeing 757 medium-range jet airliner. The aircraft made its first flight in 1989, but wouldn’t be introduced to passenger service until 1996. In comparison to the Western equivalent, the Tu-204 does boast some endearing
features, including slightly lower range and payload, and has competitive performance and fuel efficiency in its class. It was developed for Aeroflot as a replacement for the medium-range Tupolev Tu-154 trijet, although the aircraft never made full inroads into the fleet, with production of these age old 60’s airlines continuing until 2013.
Much like the Boeing 757, the Tu-204 is passenger, cargo and combi capable, and, depending on the airline’s configuration, can be quickly converted from one purpose to the other. Power is derived from either two Aviadvigatel PS-90 or Rolls-Royce RB211 engines, and is produced at Tupolev’s two Russian aircraft manufacturing plants in Ulyanovsk (Tu-204 series) and Kazan (Tu-214).
The Tu-204 never entered service with the Russian national airline, but has since become an integral part of the many lower cost carriers such as Transaero or Red Wings, or with the national carriers of former allies of the Soviet Union, such as Cubana of Cuba and Air Koryo of North Korea. The Tu-204 rarely makes appearances to the Western European Union as most of these carriers are either banned from EU airspace or choose not to serve here.
The Tu-214 was introduced in 1996, differing only due to its construction in another factory, together with a full-size main door at the left side of the fuselage just before the wing. The Tu-204 has two main doors and 2 emergency doors; the Tu-214 has 3 doors and one emergency door. The Tu-214 is essentially a higher gross weight variant of the Tu-204, being fitted with extra fuel tanks and structural adjustments to deal with the heavier gross weight. The Tu-214 has also given birth to several military variants, largely due to its flexible platform, most notably the Tu-214R ‘Project 141’ reconnaissance aircraft.
As of 2010 only 10 of these aircraft have been produced, although many more are on order. 204 and 214 production combined averages out at about only 3 or 4 aircraft produced per year, a snippet of the equivalent aircraft produced by Boeing and Airbus such as the 737-800 and the A321. In total, 76 of these aircraft (both 204’s and 214’s) have entered service.
The aircraft does have a very good safety record, with only one reported hull loss so far.
Tupolev Tu-204-100В (RA-64047 of Red Wings overshot the runway at Moscow Vnukovo International Airport on December 29th, 2012, falling down a steep hill before smashing into an elevated highway, sending debris piling into oncoming traffic, resulting in 5 out of the 9 crew, travelling on this positioning flight, being killed. The cause was later determined to be a brake failure combined with Reverse Thruster issues, which brought the airworthiness of these aircraft into question.
Apart from this, this small fleet of plucky aircraft continue to provide an important part of many Russian and former Soviet airlines that continue to operate across Eastern Europe. I personally do like the look of these aircraft, and I do hope that more can make appearances in the future in the European Union and the UK.