INSIGHT: Winglets help set Yakutia back on track

Russian airline Yakutia falls in love with split scimitar winglets as it enjoys increased passenger numbers Having appreciated the advantages of split scimitar winglets, Yakutia decided to install similar devices on ex-OrenAir aircraft (Photo by Yakutia)

Almost a year after the Siberian Republic of Sakha’s government-owned air carrier Yakutia introduced a first split scimitar winglet-fitted Boeing 737-800 to Russian air transport, the airline is to bring a fifth of the uprated type into commercial operation.

The split scimitar winglets offer enhanced fuel efficiency by up to two per cent over regular winglets and also increase payload capacity, the carrier has discovered.

Because regular winglets curve upwards, the higher air pressure on the wing’s lower surface flows towards the tip and is also forced upward, thereby reducing the vortex and subsequent energy loss that is created by air flowing around the wingtip. The design of the new split scimitar versions further reduces the vortices formed behind the wing. This in turn further reduces energy loss.

With the effect of the state-of-the-art winglets turning out to be more than successful, the company has equipped its newly-received Boeing 737-800 (VQ-BIZ) with the devices. The enhancements will allow the company to further improve its performances which, like the air around the wingtips, have been on a remarkable rise since January 2017.

Love for innovation

Before joining Yakutia’s fleet, the VQ-BIZ aircraft (SN 28645/840, manufactured in 2001) was operated by another Russian carrier OrenAir (Orenburg Airlines), currently a division of Rossiya Airlines. Open sources suggest that the Orenburg-based company received the aircraft in 2010 and used it in a 189-seat layout with regular winglets – a configuration now changed by Yakutia.

According to the minutes of the meeting of Yakutia’s procurement committee (dated December 2016), the company acquired VQ-BIZ from Genesis Funding Limited, an arm of WNG lessor. The six-year operating lease contract (to December 2022) suggests payments are $12.95 million for the period, or some $180,000 per month.

The winglet upgrades on Yakutia’s VQ-BIZ were carried out at Dutch airport Woendsrecht by local MRO-provider Fokker Services, which also did the painting works for the new operator. Other adjustments for Yakutia included cabin reconfiguration into a double-class layout, bringing it into line with the company’s other Boeing 737-800s (eight seats in business class and 162 in economy).

Since Yakutia started operating the first split scimitar winglet Boeing 737-800 operations in Russia (VP-BVE) in May 2016, the aerodynamic feature has more than proved its worth. “After a year of operation, this new feature has definitely proved its effectiveness. Considering our lengthy legs (the average duration of a Boeing 737-800 flight within the company’s route network is 4.5 hours), the split scimitar winglets have allowed us to derive maximum profit not only from the fuel efficiency (+1.5 to 2% versus regular winglets) but also from increased payload capacity,” Ivan Vinokurov, fleet management director of Yakutia, has revealed to Russian Aviation Insider.

The new long-haul airliner of the Russian far-eastern carrier is currently located at Yakutsk, the company’s homeport. Vinokurov adds that “minor formalities are still to be settled” before VQ-BIZ can be introduced into Yakutia’s commercial timetable. It will be operating passenger services from the airline’s key hubs of Yakutsk, Vnukovo and Krasnodar.

Thus far, Yakutia has been operating four Boeing 737-800s (VQ-BOY, VQ-BMP, VP-BVE and VP-BEP built, respectively, in 1999, 2000, 2002 and 2003) on its commercial schedule. According to Vinokurov, from this year’s summer timetable the company is planning to use its five Boeing 737-800s (along with regional Sukhoi Superjet 100s and Bombardier Q300/400 and Antonov An-24 turboprops). At the same time, the carrier is also considering further long-haul fleet extensions.

Russian airline Yakutia falls in love with split scimitar winglets as it enjoys increased passenger numbers

In January 2018 Yakutia will celebrate five years since it introduced SSJ100 to its fleet (Photo by Yakutia)

Cleared for take off

The current upswing in Yakutia’s fortunes is marked after the 2014-2015 downturn in the national economy forced the airline to cease Boeing 737-700 and Boeing 757-200 operations so that, at the beginning of 2016, the company’s fleet had shrunk to just three Boeing 737-800s, plus its regional aircraft fleet. The company’s recently announced development strategy says it will now prioritize Boeing 737-800s, SSJ100s and Bombardier Q300s (currently the airline operates five SSJ100s and three Q300s).

Yakutia’s business director Grigory Reshetnikov confessed in an interview with Russian Aviation Insider in 2016 that the substantial cuts of the long-haul fleet as well as the optimization of its destination network were some of the decisions that helped the airline overcome the turbulent period of 2014-2015.

“The main philosophy that we have been pursuing for the last two years is focused on maximum cost reduction. Particularly, we are targeting any costs which are not related to safety and which affect passenger comfort only in the minimum way,” Olga Fyodorova, Yakutia’s general director, told Russian Aviation Insider half a year ago. She emphasized that these measures have already proved to be effective and the company would therefore not need any kind of “exclusive governmental support”.

In 2014-2015 the problems in Russian aviation were stark and Yakutia suffered its share of a nationwide continuous decline in passenger traffic. The results of 2015 revealed the airline had served 634,000 passengers (a 45% drop on 2012) whilst the passenger turnover had fallen 2.2 times to 1.694 billion RPKs compared with 2012. In the period, the mean passenger travelling distance decreased from 3100km in 2012 to 2500km. From being number 13 on the list of Russian airlines in terms of transported passengers in 2012, the company had slumped to 22nd place by the end of 2015.

Then, in 2016 and for the first time in several years, Yakutia demonstrated a noticeable improvement, registering a nine per cent increase in passenger traffic and passenger turnover growth of 13% year-on-year.

The trend has continued, with the statistics for February 2017 showing Yakutia has already served 54% more passengers compared to January 2016; passenger turnover has ramped up by 49%; and seat occupancy grew by 0.4% within the period and reached 73.5% (four per cent lower than the industry average).

By Artyom Korenyako

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