Saratov Airlines forced to suspend operations

Saratov Airlines E-Jet Despite being in the middle of a fleet renewal programme, Saratov Airlines has been forced out of business (Saratov Airlines)

Russian regional air carrier Saratov Airlines has been forced to suspend all operations from the end of this month, following a Russian Federal Air Transport Agency (Rosaviatsiya) directive for it to immediately stop selling tickets on flights scheduled after May, the date from which its Air Operator Certificate (AOC) is cancelled.

The regulator’s original resolution to restrict Saratov Airlines’ AOC and a recommendation to the airline to “voluntarily stop operations” was taken in April after a series of inspections in the aftermath of a fatal crash of the carrier’s An-148 in February 2018.

The agency’s decision “has remained unchanged” – despite the airline’s efforts to correct all the operational short-comings pointed out by the authorities, a Rosaviatsiya official has told Russian Aviation Insider.

With the mandate to close down ticket sales, the airline is left without a way to generate revenues in the high summer season and is thus forced out of business.

The airline’s management has now admitted it will suspend operations from May 31. “The airline considers the [Rosaviatsiya] resolution to be a cancellation of its AOC. Respectively, the management of Saratov Airlines has made the decision to suspend operations and is forced to layoff its staff of 1,200 highly qualified specialists from July 18. The airline has taken all measures to implement all of Rosaviatsiya instructions in due time,” the airline says in a statement, adding that its foreign partners and lessors “trust the airline” and “express support”.

Notably, the regulator’s mandate comes as Saratov is in the middle of a fleet renewal programme. Just yesterday, on May 17, the private airline added a third Embraer E195 to its fleet and was expecting the delivery of two more before the end of the year. It also announced plans to expand capacity with the addition of Boeing 737-800s.

Some industry experts are concerned that the Russian regulator has tended to eliminate smaller carriers rather than support their improvement efforts, a stance which may be influenced by the general preference for larger, consolidated airlines.

Perhaps supporting this view, it is noted that all major accidents involving Russian airlines during the current decade have resulted in those carriers involved being forced out of business. In 2011, after the crash of a Rusair Tu-134 en route from Moscow to Petrozavodsk, its operator ceased operations. In 2013, a Tatarstan Airlines Boeing 737 crash at Kazan also led to the closure of the airline. Metrojet (Kogalymavia) was shut down in 2015, shortly after a terrorist attack destroyed its Airbus A321 over the Sinai Peninsula.

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