In a move that has raised eyebrows, private Kyrgyz carrier SkyKG Airlines has leased two Tupolev Tu-204 passenger airliners from Russia’s Ilyushin Finance Co. Both aircraft were previously operated by Red Wings, which had to abandon them with their limited airframe lives about to expire.
SkyKG Airlines says it will use the Russian-made aircraft for flights “on popular tourist routes”, but as the company’s current fleet consists solely of twin-engined, propeller-driven light utility Diamond DA-42s aircraft used in flying lab configurations, SkyKG’s credentials for successfully operating 200-seat, mid-haul airliners are questionable.
SkyKG Airlines’ two leased aircraft, with serial numbers 64046 and 64049, were produced between 2008 and 2009 and, according to Kyrgyzstan’s Civil Aviation Agency, the aircraft were placed onto the national aircraft register as ЕХ-20401 and EX-20402 in January. With a capacity of 210 economy-class seats each, the Tu-204s are the largest aircraft ever to be operated in the Central Asian country.
SkyKG’s co-founder and general director Gennady Gryaznov told Russian Aviation Insider that the aircraft will be based at Kyrgyzstan’s main Manas (IATA: FRU) airport in the capital city of Bishkek. Starting from the summer season, they will operate flights to “popular tourist destinations,” but Russia is not on the list.
Although SkyKG Airlines is currently recruiting flight crews and maintenance staff for the type, the aircraft are yet to be ferried to their new operator as they are still on the ground at Russia’s Mineralnye Vody airport.
The SkyKG Tu-204 development has come as a surprise to the aviation community for several reasons, not the least because of Red Wings’ decision to abandon Tu-204 operations as they closed-in on their airframe time limits. It is unclear how the operation of such inefficient, geriatric aircraft could be economically justified in Kyrgyzstan.
Secondly, both aircraft arrived at Mineralnye Vody airport a year ago where they were painted into the corporate colours of Air Koryo, a North Korean airline that already has two Tu-204s in its fleet. What happened to that arrangement remains uncertain.
Finally, SkyKG Airlines has thus far specialised in operating flight tests of radio equipment and by renting out its two DA-42 light four-seater aircraft. Obviously, the launch of medium-haul aircraft operations will require significant financial injections, but how would investments in such an unpredictable project be justified?
Gennady Gryaznov has assured Russian Aviation Insider that his company, which was founded in 2004, already has experience with large aircraft. Indeed, at some points in its past, the carrier operated mid-haul, albeit exotic airliner types as the Boeing 707, the British Aircraft Corporation BAC 1-11 and the Ilyushin IL-18.
Further questions are emerging about IFC’s decision to lease the aircraft to a Kyrgyz carrier, since the country is still on Europe’s aviation blacklist, and even larger Kyrgyz airlines have found it extremely difficult to lease aircraft.
By Artyom Korenyako
Russian Aviation Insider
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