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Putin opens air show, pays tribute to crash victim

world Updated: Aug 18, 2009 21:05 IST
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Prime Minister Vladimir Putin opened Russia's largest and most important air show Tuesday, two days after a collision of two air force jets that killed the leader of the elite aerobatic squadron.

The opening of the International Aviation and Space Show was marred by Sunday's collision. Putin praised the victim as one of Russia's best pilots and honored him with a moment of silence. Putin also pledged to pump more state funds into the nation's aerospace industries. Russia is using the show to boast its huge but aging aerospace industry, but analysts expect few major deals to be signed during the weeklong event held at a formerly secret military airfield outside Moscow.

Putin promised that the government will continue to earmark significant resources to upgrade the nation's aerospace industries and help them extend their share of the global market. "The development of aviation and space industries is one of our priorities," he said. "We are pinning our hopes for diversification of the national economy and expansion of its high-tech sector on them."

But despite similar pledges by Putin to modernize aircraft industries during his eight years as president, Russia has continued to rely on an aging work force and equipment, and have been slow to produce new planes.

Russia so far has failed to develop a new fighter jet to match the latest U.S. fighter, the F-22 Raptor, which entered service in 2005. Officials have pledged that the new Russian fighter will make its maiden flight later this year.

The top Russian fighter in the show, the Su-35, is only an upgrade of the Su-27 which has been the mainstay of the Soviet and then Russian air force for nearly quarter century. Top aircraft makers such as Sukhoi have survived mostly thanks to lucrative export orders for their fighter jets from China, India and other foreign customers.

Seeking new markets, Sukhoi has developed a new regional passenger jet, Superjet 100, which will make its first Russian public debut at the show. The company says the number of orders for the new plane already has reached 122 aircraft.

Other leading Russian aircraft makers, such as Tupolev and Ilyushin, have been far less successful than Sukhoi in seeking customers both in Russia and abroad.

Russian airlines have ignored their products, opting increasingly for Boeings and Airbuses. Even Russia's industry minister has acknowledged earlier this month that there is no domestic demand for Tupolev and Ilyushin planes.