Technical issues keep half of Yamal’s Superjet fleet grounded

Yamal Yamal has abandoned plans to purchase 10 more SSJ100s in May (SCAC)

Half of the Sukhoi Superjet 100 (SSJ100) fleet operated by Yamal Airlines, Russia’s second largest operator of the type, has been grounded throughout 2018 and 2019, according to the airline’s recently approved 2018 annual report.

It blames the grounding on the “numerous design and manufacturing flaws in aircraft and engine systems, as well as the lack of aftersales support by the producer.”

The regional airline has 15 SSJ100s in its fleet, all leased from the State Transport Leasing Company (GTLK) on a 12-year term. Six of them joined Yamal’s fleet in February 2017, ahead of a further one in November of the same year and the remaining eight in the March through May 2018 period.

The airline’s combined annual lease payment obligations amount to 2.2 billion roubles, plus a further 34 million roubles every year. The report notes that because of numerous defects that occurred in the 2017 to 2019 period, combined with the contract provisions which state that grounding due to technical reasons cannot prejudice lease payments, the airline is now at risk of coughing up at least one billion roubles annually in lease payments for non-revenue generating aircraft.

It is reported that six out of 11 aviation incidents in the airline’s 2018 annual log occurred on its SSJ100 fleet, and a further three happened in the first quarter of this year. Frequent technical issues with the SSJ100’s powerplants even forced the airline’s engineering and maintenance personnel to carry out engine removals and installations outside the hangar. This procedure allowed the airline to partially optimise its unscheduled maintenance costs.

Yamal Airlines first voiced its concerns over a lack of spare parts for the aircraft as early as spring 2017. Even so, the airline initially pressed ahead with its plans to lease a further 10 SSJ100s. However, a change of mind manifested itself in May 2019 when Yamal’s general director Vasiliy Kryuk announced that his airline had decided not to continue the expansion of its SSJ100 fleet because of their high operating and maintenance costs.

At the same time, according to the report, the Salekhard-based airline plans instead to continue growing its fleet of Airbus narrow-bodies, eventually bringing that list to 20 units, although the timeline for those new deliveries has not been outlined. The airline currently operates eight A321s and three smaller A320s. Their high dispatch reliability has made them the core of the carrier’s fleet. Operational lease contracts for eight of these aircraft are in place until 2023 and the remaining three until 2026. The average age of Yamal’s Airbus fleet is 15 years.

In the meantime, the airline’s 10 vintage 50-seat Bombardier CRJ200LRs are to be gradually phased out, the report reveals. Leasing agreements for three of these regional jets expire in 2019, followed by further five next year.

Yamal Airlines is the main carrier operating in Russia’s north-western Siberia Yamalo-Nenetsky autonomous region, from where more than 90 per cent of Russia’s natural gas is sourced. The region also accounts for some 12 per cent of Russia’s oil production.

Despite the financial stresses, Yamal Airlines managed to post small net profit of 13.5 million roubles in 2018, a positive consequence of airport and ground handling cost optimisation and fleet management decisions, the airline believes. Last year the airline also received some 3.9 billion roubles in subsidies, including 714 million from its home Yamalo-Nenetsk region and 1.1 billion and 1.3 million as compensation for the leasing payments made for foreign and Russian-made aircraft, respectively, the annual report reveals.

Some 50 per cent of the airline’s earnings will be paid as dividends to its shareholders – which consist of the administration of the Yamalo-Nenetsk region (98.2 per cent) and the Fonika company (1.8 per cent).

The airline is currently working on its development strategy for the next decade, assisted in the task by global consultancy Ernst&Young.

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