Russian airline IrAero ’s Boeing 777 project comes to another halt

IrAero IrAero is one of just a handful of Boeing 777 operators in Russia (IrAero)

Russia’s privately-run airline IrAero has seen its Boeing 777-200ER project come to a sudden halt, exactly as happened one year ago, but this time with a different Chinese tourist consolidator partner failing to support the project. As a result, the Irkutsk-based airline may abandon its future plans for the type. At least one of the B777s has reportedly been returned to its lessor and the remaining two have thus far not been seen flying in December.

As part of the development of a joint project with Chinese travel agency Pearl River, IrAero initially leased the wide-body aircraft in the summer of 2018. Nikolay Bessonov, the airline’s spokesman, revealed to Russian Aviation Insider that, in 2019, the airliners carried some 190,000 passengers between Russia and China, a figure which corresponds to 24.5 per cent of the airline’s total traffic for 10 months of this year. The bulk of these charter flights occurred between June and September, the peak travel season, under contract with large Chinese travel agents. However once the agreements expired, the Chinese partners chose not to extend them, leaving the airline with a huge excess of empty seats.

“At present, travel companies have not been able to secure full loads for our airplanes and so they have not extended the contracts,” Bessonov explains. “For this reason we made the decision to optimise our fleet management to mitigate the additional costs [burden]. However, we are not cutting off our communication with our Chinese colleagues and are confident about further cooperation next year.”

Whilst admitting that the airline may take a pause in operating its B777-200ERs, Bessonov nevertheless expresses confidence that their operation will continue, albeit in a “more optimised configuration.”

According to data collected by Russian state regulator Rosaviatsiya, apart from the three B777s, the regional airline operates eight Superjet 100 regional jets, 15 Antonov 24/26 turboprops and a Bombardier CRJ200LR jet.

Although rumours indicate that IrAero is not in the best financial shape, having delayed wages to flight and cabin crews, Bessonov disputes this. “As any other airline at the end of high season we have experienced certain cash deficiencies. But it would be wrong to call the situation critical. We have all the capabilities to fulfil our obligations,” he insists.

IrAero is one of a handful of Russian operators of Boeing 777s. Others include Aeroflot, Rossiya and large leisure carriers working in the interests of Turkey-backed travel companies, such as Azur Air, Royal Flight and Nordwind.

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