Private Uzbek airline Qanot Sharq has placed a ‘soft’ order with Sukhoi Civil Aircraft (SCAC) for three Russian-built Superjet 100s, reports United Aircraft Corporation, the aircraft manufacturer’s parent company. The letter of intent was signed at last week’s MAKS-2019 Moscow air show. The plan is to lease the aircraft through a yet unnamed financial partner.
One of the first privately owned airlines in Uzbekistan, Qanot Sharq was founded in 1998 to carry passengers and freight. In the period between 2003 and 2012 it rented several Ilyushin IL-76 cargo aircraft from national carrier Uzbekistan Airways to perform charter flights, but eventually the IL-76 had to be ceded to the country’s defence ministry and, consequently, Qanot Sharq’s Air Operator’s Certificate (AOC) was suspended, which is where it stands now.
The decision to revive the dormant carrier as a regional passenger airline came in the light of the Uzbekistan president’s decree last November describing the measures required for “the radical improvement of Uzbekistan’s civil aviation”, Nosir Abdugafarov, Qanot Sharq’s founder, revealed to Kun.uz newswire in August.
The idea is to feed passengers from distant regions into the country’s bigger hubs, from where they would then continue travelling internationally on Uzbekistan Airways flights.
Before committing to the SSJ100, the airline also met with Embraer and Bombardier, two other manufacturers of similar sized regional jets. “We’re now working on our route network and, along with that, we’re building up the organisational structure of the airline,” he said.
According to Abdugafarov, the authorities are yet to provide an official response. Although his initiative is praised at all levels, the businessman has also been seeking a meeting with the Uzbek transport ministry for over a month. “The exchange of letters has been going on for over a month now. Frankly speaking, the time [it takes] for the processing of every document is quite long and everything is proceeding very slowly,” he complained. “It seems like they’re willing to support [us], but everything just gets put off. We’ve been offered assistance and advice to discuss the issues, but so far we’ve not been able to meet with anyone.”
Thus, a prospective date for the launch of the airline does not depend on him, Abdugafarov admitted. “Realistically, it would take at least two to three months once we have settled all the issues to get the company going. Training pilots and technicians would also take time,” he said. “Currently, we have been receiving offers, both from manufacturers to purchase new aircraft and from leasing companies to rent them. But this cannot be finalised until everything is ready here. We have to confirm our standing.”
The company has both the desire and the experience to start such an airline business, but there remain “a million issues” to be resolved first, Abdugafarov admitted. It all boils down to “the will of the authorities,” he stated, attributing the continuous reluctance to start negotiations to the fact that the launch of a new airline is happening during a new reality for Uzbekistan.
Typically, it is unclear, for example, how the airline’s frequencies and destinations would be assigned, and how to manage cooperation with airports which are currently part of the state-owned National Aviation Concern/Uzbekistan Airways and are in the process of being separated from it.
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