Tajikistan's Somon Air is mulling the possibility of adding the currently grounded Boeing 737 MAX to its fleet, 15 months after pulling out of a deal to lease the narrowbody.
The airline dropped plans to take the type in late June 2019, citing uncertainty about the timeline for the aircraft's re-entry to service and a lack of public confidence. It had previously agreed to lease one unit from Air Lease Corporation and had options for more.
However, Somon Air CEO Thomas Hallam (pictured at Routes Silk Road 2019) has confirmed that talks have restarted to add the model to its existing all-Boeing fleet, saying he has confidence that FAA head Steve Dickson will ensure the aircraft is safe to return to service.
“We’ve reintroduced discussions with Boeing for either MAX 8s or MAX 9s to either replace some of our aeroplanes or to retain them,” Hallam said during an Aviation Week Network webinar hosted by Routes editor-in-chief Wesley Charnock
“It depends on the finance but we’ll either do it to replace [older aircraft] or we could add them to our fleet and have a larger fleet moving forward.”
According to CAPA Fleet Database, Somon Air’s fleet consists of two 737-300s, two 737-800s and two 737-900ERs.
Before the MAX was grounded in March 2019 after two fatal accidents that killed 346 people, the carrier had planned to transition to a MAX fleet over the coming years to further extend its geographical reach.
“They’re probably as good as any fuel efficiency replacement model, maybe better,” Hallam said. “The range will probably get us to London in the MAX 9, maybe the MAX 8 with a slightly reduced load, and certainly to Shanghai, Beijing and Seoul.”
Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, the longest route in Somon Air’s network was between Tajikistan’s capital Dushanbe International (DYU) and Frankfurt (FRA) in Germany at 4,822 km. However, scheduled service remains suspended because of COVID-19 travel restrictions.
The Tajik civil aviation authority announced the temporary suspension of all flights to and from Tajikistan from Mar. 20. Since then, Somon Air and flydubai have resumed weekly commercial flights between DYU and Dubai (DXB), while Somon Air has also operated a number of other charter services.
Tom Hallam will be speaking at Routes Reconnected. Combining both live and virtual elements, our brand-new hybrid event will provide a platform for the global route development community to meet and rebuild the world’s air services.
Photo credit: Routes / Ocean Driven Media