Yamal Airlines: The Russian Carrier You’ve Probably Never Heard Of

While much of our time here at Simple Flying is dedicated to larger carriers or exciting start-ups, we also like to shine the spotlight on lesser-known airlines across the globe. Based out of northwestern Siberia, Yamal Airlines is the world’s third-largest operator of the Sukhoi Superjet SSJ100. Let’s see what else there is to find out about this rather obscure Russian airline.

Yamal Airlines A320
Russia’s largely unknown Yamal Airlines is one of the country’s top ten scheduled passenger carriers. Photo: Getty Images

Largest carrier for natural gas region

Qualifying for the top ten of scheduled commercial carriers in Russia, Yamal Airlines is still relatively unknown – even within the country. The carrier was founded on April 7th in 1997. It is the largest airline in the Yamalo-Nenetsky autonomous region in northwestern Siberia, from where about 90% of Russia’s natural gas is sourced.

It is owned to 98.2% by the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug Department of Property Relations Administration and headquartered in Salekhard, the Okrug’s administrative center. As a side note, Russia has six different types of federal subjects – republics, krais, oblasts, federal cities, one autonomous oblast, and four autonomous okrugs. It is a fairly complicated system to get your head around.

Like many other post-Soviet regional airlines, Yamal began operations with older USSR-built planes. Domestic services commenced with a Yakovlev YAK-40 trijet, a plane that was in commercial production between 1967 to 1981. However, the airline soon changed its allegiance to Tupolevs, of which it has operated the Tu-134 and the Tu-154.

Yamal Airlines began operations with a Soviet-built YAK-40 trijet, such as the one seen here belonging to the Air Force of Poland. Photo: Björn Strey via Wikimedia Commons

The third-largest Superjet fleet

The airline has stayed relatively loyal to domestically made machines. Today, it operates a fleet of 15 Sukhoi Superjet 100s, which make up the majority of its fleet. This makes Yamal Airlines the third-largest operator of the type, following Aeroflot and Rossiya Russian Airlines.

It was to be an even larger customer of the Russian aircraft manufacturer. Yamal Airlines had options for an additional ten of the Superjet. However, just after the fatal crash landing of Aeroflot Flight 1492 in May 2019, it decided to cancel the remaining potential orders.

The accident saw a two-year-old SSJ100 suffer an electrical failure after being hit by lightning upon departure from Moscow Sheremetyevo on its way to Murmansk. As it returned for an emergency landing, it touched down hard. The landing gear collapsed, and fuel spilled out from the still full tanks on the wings, with the plane catching fire as a result. Forty-one out of the 78 people on board died.

Yamal SSJ100
Yamal Airlines is the third-largest operator of the Sukhoi Superjet after Aeroflot and Rossiya Russian Airlines. Photo: Artem Katranzh via Wikimedia Commons

Yamal Airlines’ CEO, Vasily Kryuk, cited high servicing costs as the reason for the cancelation of the additional ten aircraft. However, he also commented at the time of the crash that the failure of the electronics after the lightning strike could only be down to poor-quality assembly of the aircraft and problems with the static dischargers. Kryuk is himself a pilot with over 40 years of experience.

The first SSJ 100 was delivered to the carrier in November 2017, and the last in May 2018. With an average age of 4.4 years, the Superjets are the youngest part of Yamal’s fleet. They replaced an aging contingent of second-hand Boeing 737-400s and -500s, which came from a wide array of airlines such as Air France, Nok Air, and Saga Airlines between 2008 and 2012.

The Airbus fleet

Meanwhile, in 2012, the airline began taking deliveries of six Airbus A320 aircraft that had previously flown for British Airways. Another two A320s initially operating for Hungarian low-cost carrier Wizz Air joined the fleet in 2017, as did one A321 previously flying for compatriot Aeroflot. Another two A321s delivered in 2013, formerly of Beirut-based MEA, round out Yamal Airlines’ Airbus fleet with an average age of 17 years.

Yamal Airlines still has three Bombardier CRJ-200 aircraft in its fleet, having phased out eight of the type since 2019. Photo: Papas Dos via Wikimedia Commons

The carrier also operates three Bombardier CRJ-200s, one of which is configured for VIP operations. The planes, averaging close to 16 years of age, are what remains of a previously 11 aircraft strong fleet of the regional jets. Yamal Airlines began phasing out its CRJ-200s in November 2019. All the eight jets to exit between then and December 2020 are currently stored.

Bases and routes

Yamal Airlines is the only airline based at Salekhard Airport (SLY). From there, the carrier serves ten destinations – Moscow Domodedovo, Moscow Sheremetyevo, Nadym, Novosibirsk, Novy Urengoy, Noyabrsk, Saint Petersburg, Tyumen, Ufa, and Ekaterinburg.

However, the carrier also has as many as another three bases – Moscow Domodedovo, St Petersburg Pulkovo, and Ufa in the Republic of Bashkortostan, close to the border with Kazakhstan. The airline also flies non-stop from several of its other destinations, such as Nadym and Noyabrsk, to domestic leisure destination Sochi by the Black Sea and Simferopol on the annexed Crimea peninsula.

Salekhard Airport
Yamal Airline is the only scheduled passenger airline serving Salekhard Airport. Photo: Vasyatka1 via Wikimedia Commons

Yamal Airlines also flies to international leisure destinations popular with Russians, such as Antalya in Turkey. Other international services go to Dushanbe and Khujand in Tajikistan and Namangan in Uzbekistan. Previous routes have included flights to Gothenburg, Rhodes, Kerkyra, and Yerevan. We shall have to wait and see if Yamal Airlines will decide to re-expand its network when international travel restrictions allow, or if it will be content with ‘Soviet era’ leisure routes.

Subsidized tickets and refunds

Currently, the carrier has a campaign along with the local government of its home region, which is subsidizing tickets for the summer holidays. In April 2020, the airline also refunded 300 million rubles ($4 million) worth of tickets. This was done due to cancelations but also as a request for passengers to voluntarily forego their travel to stop the potential spread of COVID-19.

Have you ever flown with Yamal Airlines or any other Russian regional carrier? Leave a comment below and tell us about your experience.