The Serbian flag carrier Air Serbia is in talks with Russian aircraft manufacturer Sukhoi Civil Aircraft Company about a major order that would renew most of Air Serbia’s fleet. It seems that Sukhoi is finally about to find a permanent European customer for its SJ100 aircraft.
Air Serbia is doing great right now
The Serbian flag carrier has had a great year in 2019, and it looks set to have a great 2020.
It launched a staggering 21 new routes this summer and is building a strong regional transfer hub in Belgrade Nikola Tesla Airport. It is doing this by launching niche international routes like Krasnodar and operating niche regional ones like Tirana, Podgorica, and Ljubljana. Air Serbia has positioned itself as a leading transfer airline for these destinations.
At the same time, it is expanding its offering in the long-haul transfer market by partnering with Finnair for an extensive codeshare partnership.
It continues to be supported by the Serbian government, which will pay Air Serbia to launch two new routes out of the brand new airport of Morava in Kraljevo. Air Serbia is also being paid to fly out of the third Serbian airport of Niš.
The Serbian flag carrier receives annual government financial assistance. As Serbia is not in the EU, annual financial assistance for the airline is allowed. With all this state support and successful growth in passenger numbers and destinations, it is unsurprising that Air Serbia is looking at fleet replacement options.
34-year old Boeing 737s
Air Serbia presently has one of the oldest fleets of any national airline in Europe. The average age of its aircraft is 18 years, according to airfleets.net.
It has four Boeing 737s that are 34 years old and six ATR 42 aircraft that are over 24 years old. Even its Airbus A319 and A320 aircraft are on average 18 years old.
There are two reasons why Air Serbia needs to replace these: firstly, the cost of regular and irregular maintenance is far higher than it would be for new aircraft. Secondly, it is proving to be an issue for Air Serbia’s image in the local media.
Sukhoi steps in
Sukhoi is very keen to find a customer in Europe to raise the profile of its SSJ100 aircraft. Presently, only Russian airline Aeroflot continues to use the aircraft in Europe on regular scheduled flights. Indeed, it recently agreed to take five more.
Previous SSJ100 customers in Europe included Brussels Airlines, which tested the aircraft through a lease agreement with CityJet. But even CityJet has returned all its SSJ100 and so Brussels Airlines is no longer using them at all.
As was originally reported by Tass News Agency three weeks ago, Sergey Prikhodko of Russia’s Government Office confirmed that talks between Air Serbia and Sukhoi are indeed taking place.
Furthermore, this week it was Putin himself who confirmed that Russia is “ready” to supply Serbia with Russian aircraft. This emerged during Putin’s visit to Belgrade and was reported by See News.
More importantly, mention was made of Belgrade Nikola Tesla Airport becoming the European maintenance center for Russian aircraft. This makes it increasingly likely that Air Serbia will indeed acquire Sukhoi aircraft, as it is itself based in Belgrade. Air Serbia’s own technical maintenance division has been put up for sale.
What part of the fleet could be replaced?
It is expected that the Boeing 737 aircraft will definitely be going since they are far older than Air Serbia would like its aircraft to be. But could Air Serbia be considering replacing its ATR 42 fleet too? Perhaps even its Airbus A319s?
If Belgrade is to become a center for maintenance, and Sukhoi offers a significant discount to Air Serbia for placing a huge order, then this might indeed be possible.
Do you think there is sense in Air Serbia’s decision to replace its Boeing and Airbus fleet with Sukhoi aircraft when no other European airline uses the SSJ100? Let us know in the comments below.