In an attempt to provide at least a temporary relief to its current operational hurdles, Tajikistan’s state-run carrier Tajik Air has added a 50-seat Bombardier CRJ200 to its fleet. The 13-year old aircraft, with registration C-FPOI, is the first of the batch of an order for four of the Canadian-made regional jets. Before the end of this year, the airline expects to take delivery of another CRJ200, with two bigger CRJ900s scheduled to arrive within the next 12 months.
The latest acquisition is believed to have been instigated by the government of Tajikistan in its aim to provide long-anticipated assistance to the Central Asian country’s troubled national carrier.
Tajik Air, which has experienced financial difficulties lately, employs a highly eclectic fleet of 35 aircraft, which even includes a Chinese-made MA60. However, just five aircraft – a Boeing 767, 757, 737 and an Antonov An-26 turboprop as well as a Mil Mi-8MTV helicopter – are currently in airworthy conditions. The bulk of the fleet has been long grounded by technical disorders. The Bombardier CRJ is the new type “added in line with the long-term development strategy,” the airline says in a statement.
The rehabilitation of the airline’s fleet is actively receiving the support of the Tajikistan government. At the beginning of this year the country’ president Emomali Rakhmon exempted the national carrier from paying Customs duties and VAT for imported aircraft. Finally, in late September, the government announced a special programme for saving Tajik Air from imminent bankruptcy. That programme provides a roadmap for the period 2018 to 2023 and includes ramping up its physical assets and infrastructure, boosting its competitiveness and resuscitating its financial condition. The necessary resources will stem from state investment projects and long-term loans from international financial institutions. The airline itself has also been tasked with coming up with a plan for its privatisation, a joint effort involving the country’s Civil Aviation Agency and State Committee for investment and state property management.
No details on the possible time-line for its privatisation have been disclosed, however, in the meantime, Tajik Air remains under the management of a supervisory council, which is headed by Kokhir Rasulzoda, the country’s prime minister. The latest measures are aimed at drastically reforming the carrier’s organisational structure, downscaling its staff, reducing its debts and, above all, sorting out its crippling fleet situation. The majority of obsolete aircraft – 23 airliners produced between 1969 and 1992 – are destined to be written off and sold within this and next year. The residual proceeds would then be injected into the purchase or lease of modern aircraft.
Winning back the local market is one of the primary goals on the carrier’s agenda. In the first half of this year Tajik Air’s share of all traffic handled by the country’s airports declined to 16 per cent. Its main rival, privately run Somon Air, has long become Tajikistan’s largest operator. This airline, with an apparently more efficient management team, headed by American Thomas Hallam, was launched a decade ago and has enjoyed a dynamic development and a more sound fleet strategy. Next year it is taking delivery of re-engined Embraer E190-E2s to replace its ageing Boeing 737-300s and expand its regional programme. It is also expecting to add a Boeing 767-300ER in 2019 to serve long-haul routes and has announced intentions to boost its narrow-body fleet with Boeing 737MAXs, which would support its ambitions for launching flights to China and the Far East.
Meanwhile, to strengthen its position in the local market, Tajik Air is planning to widen its route network by adding both local destinations and international flights to Istanbul (Turkey), Dubai and Sharjah (both UAE).
Tajik Air’s financial standing remains a reason for concern, as it generated profits of just four million somoni last year, whilst its costs exceeded 576 million somoni against 581 million somoni revenue turnover. It also has more than 130 million somoni of outstanding debts – for ATM services, catering, fuel and ground handling. The earlier plan to merge the airline with other state-run enterprises to help it overcome its financial difficulties has not been realised, and has apparently been replaced by a more workable strategy.
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