Somon Air will not be proceeding with its agreement to lease a Boeing 737 MAX later this year. In making the decision, the airline’s CEO, Thomas Hallam, cited a lack of confidence in the aircraft from both the Board and senior officials in Tajikistan.
According to a report in Forbes, the Dushanbe based airline has told the Air Lease Corporation (ACL) that it won’t be going ahead with the lease for the single 737 MAX. CEO Thomas Hallam told Forbes that:
“They’re (the airline’s Board) just hearing things and none of it’s positive … I am not willing to go forward [with the MAX] until the aircraft is back in operation, until there’s some experience – beyond my own personal experience – that can be convincing, so that people [in Tajikistan] will be open to my argument.”
Granted, the cancellation is for just one aircraft and it being owned by ACL, the cancellation will not affect Boeing’s order book. But, it is symptomatic of widespread dissatisfaction at Boeing’s inability to swiftly resolve the problems surrounding the 737 MAX, and underlying uncertainty about when the aircraft will take to the skies once more.
Who are Somon Air?
Somon Air is a small private carrier operating out of Dushanbe International Airport in Tajikistan. The airline started up in 2008 with flights between Dushanbe and Moscow. Today, it is the country’s national carrier and operates to 24 destinations as far afield as Germany and the UAE.
The airline has a fleet of just six aircraft, all Boeing 737s. The cancelled 737 MAX was to be its first MAX. The Forbes report suggests the airline was looking to switch to an all MAX fleet over the next few years. That plan may now well be on ice.
The six aircraft fleet includes two 737-300s that are due for replacement. EY-545 entered service in 1989, initially with KLM and went across to Somon Air in 2011. EY-555 started flying in 1993 with Air Malta before going to Norwegian Air Shuttle in 2006 and Somon Air in 2011.
The remainder of the Somon Air fleet, two 737-800s and two 737-900s are considerably younger.
The first of the 737-800’s, EY-787 started flying in 2008 with SpiceJet before coming over to Somon Air in 2018. The second 737 800, EY-777, is one of Somon Air’s original aircraft, coming to the airline new in 2009.
Both the 737-900s came to Somon Air factory fresh. Both VQ-BBB and VQ-BBL started flying in 2011.
Somon Air’s aircraft are worked hard. The 737-800s and -900s are flying some 280 hours a month. The airline is looking to expand and open new routes, and the 737 MAX was going to help with that. Now the airline is back to the drawing board, looking for another aircraft to help meet its growth strategy.
The aircraft leasing market is booming
Finding a replacement aircraft may not be a big issue for Somon Air. As South African Airways has just illustrated with its quick fire decision to lease two A350s, opportunities do exist to lease aircraft at short notice.
The ongoing saga surrounding the 737 MAX is forcing many airlines to do just that. Fiji Airways has had to lease a 737-800 from Miami Air to cover flights affected by the grounding of its two 737 MAX aircraft. Scoot is leasing up to 12 A320s to cover for its grounded MAXs. Leeham News is reporting today that airlines are planning to extend current short term leases as the MAX grounding shows no sign of ending.
Just last week the FAA discovered a new problem with the 737 MAXs flight controls, adding to the list of problems that Boeing needs to sort out before the aircraft will be cleared to fly again.
In the meantime, the grounding is causing havoc for airlines big and small. While the decision not to take up the 737 MAX lease is a setback for Somon Air, it isn’t insurmountable. Unlike some big carriers, Somon Air isn’t losing millions a day while its planes sit idle on the ground.
Somon Air are an interesting little airline. They are only 11 years old but their track record so far is solid and without any serious incidents. Unlike many other startup airlines, they have been cautious and expanded slowly, exercising pragmatism over ambition. They’ll find another aircraft to replace the cancelled 737 MAX.
It will be interesting to watch Somon Air over the next few years.