Saturday, 24 August 2019

SyrianAir’s A340 marks two years of successful operations


By Stijn Mitzer

With SyrianAir's sole A340 aircraft marking more than two years of successful operations to destinations in North Africa, the Middle East and Russia, photos posted on SyrianAir's website reveal interesting details on the operations of an airline that had nearly succumbed to years of sanctions. After years of scaling back its operations due to a slow degradation process that would see SyrianAir retiring ever more aircraft as spare parts became increasingly difficult to acquire, SyrianAir is now expanding its operations amidst an increasingly stable security situation in all of Syria's major population centres.

The airline's rejuvenation is in no small part due to Iran's Mahan Air, which wet-leased one of its Airbus A300-600R passenger jets to SyrianAir in August 2016, circumventing the sanctions implemented against Syria. The wet-lease of an Airbus A300 was only a temporarily solution to SyrianAir's problems, yet it allowed SyrianAir some much needed breathing space until a permanent solution to the airline could be found. The search and subsequent acquisition of an Airbus A340 would involve countries like Iran, Chad and Kazakhstan in a prime example of 'Sanctions Busting', and can be read in more detail here.

The newly acquired A340 'YK-AZA' made its inaugurational flight to Dubai on the 12th of April 2017, an event not only well attended by Syrian press, but also by various government officials including Syria's Minister of Transport Ali Hammoud, who stated the following:

''Today Airbus 340 is taking off from Damascus International Airport to Dubai in the first flight after it was rehabilitated by the Syrian Ministry of Transport. This big achievement is an indicator of the resilience and vigor of the Syrian people and their ability to produce solutions.''

''Steps are underway to revamp and re-equip all facilities in the airport to allow for an increase in the number of planes and more air traffic. The economic blockade imposed on Syria had badly affected our ability to repair the equipment in the airport. However, we are working with partners to secure more equipment needed to re-operate the airport. In addition to its role in securing more revenue for the state, this step is a message to the world that the air transport sector in Syria is recovering despite the relentless war being waged on Syria.''


The A340 acquired is of the 300 series, the initial variant of this type produced by Airbus. Equipped with CFM 56-5C3 engines, the aircraft's official designation is A340-312 (A340 300-series with CFM 56-5C3 engines). Although the A340 is gradually being phased out by most airlines operating the type in favour for more fuel-efficient aircraft, the type's fuel consumption is somewhat offset by its low purchase price as excess airframes are now flooding the market.

Currently the largest (operational) aircraft in SyrianAir's fleet, the airline's A340 seats up to 300 passengers in a two-class layout with 275 economy-class seats and 25 business-class seats. As the A340 is used on the same routes usually flown by SyrianAir's two remaining operational A320s, which also operate in a two cabin configuration (144 economy-class seats and 6 business-class seats), it is seems unlikely that the A340 is fully booked on most flights.

Indeed, on the inaugural flight between the coastal city of Latakia and Sharjah International Airport (IAP), UAE in May 2018 the A340 had an occupancy of just 170 passengers. [1] In this regard, it would appear as if using an A320 on this route would be more economically viable. Nonetheless, the Latakia-Sharjah and Latakia-Abu Dhabi routes are almost exclusively flown by the A340 [2], making a compelling case for a steep rise in passenger numbers in the past year. This could be in no small part due to Latakia IAP now serving not only the cities along the coast but also the cities of Hama and Aleppo, the latter of which has not yet seen any international flights since its reopening in early 2017.


Perhaps not by coincidence, the seats themselves appear similar to those installed in some of Mahan Air's fleet of Airbus aircraft. These same seats were also used in the A300 SyrianAir previously wet-leased from the same airline, making a compelling case for further assistance provided by Mahan Air in this field well. Presumably in an effort to minimise costs, none of the seats have seatback TV screens, not even in Business Class. Rather than installing TV screens in seats, there are three large screens located towards the front, although it is likely that only those sitting in the two front rows will benefit from them. Economy class doesn't feature any TV screens, although this is unlikely to be a problem for the roughly three to four hour flight to the UAE and back.


While the seats appear to have been installed in Iran, the painting of the aircraft in SyrianAir took place at the company's facilities at Damascus IAP. Had the A340 departed from Tehran in full SyrianAir colours, Iran's role in the acquisition scheme of the A340 would have been more evident. Also note the decomissioned Boeing 727 and wet-leased Mahan Air A300 seen in the background of the lowermost image. The A300 would return to Mahan Air shortly after the arrival of the A340.


Another important aspect of flying is the in-flight food served to passengers. SyrianAir is serving up a menu that is perhaps reflective of the ongoing conflict in Syria, with a focus on leaf vegetables and pickled peppers rather than meat and actual meals. Not to worry though: the compulsory bread roll with butter is present!

On SyrianAir's website the following is stated:

''On every flight, two types of meals are provided that are comprised of red white meat giving passengers the choice of selecting a meal that matches their taste. A variety of light meals based around a collection of sandwiches are also provided on short routes after the main meal.

Business Class meals are prepared from three selections of red meat, white meat, or both along with appetizers, salads and Damascene sweets using ingredients of the highest quality. These come in addition to western pastries and breakfast meals made up of cheese, honey and other complimentary sweets such as cakes, gateau, etc.''

Some of the meals served by SyrianAir will be covered in a future photo report on the operations of this airline.


Other images show some of the A340's crew, which leave a modern impression as expected from SyrianAir. Indeed, while it's only years ago that the Islamic State reigned over large parts of Syria, a significant portion of the Syrian population is part of a modern society with clear Western aspirations.


Although there have been some speculations that the A340 would be used on new routes to China and Venezuela, it is unlikely that any new routes to these destinations will be launched in the foreseeable future, at least until more aircraft are acquired to relieve SyrianAir's current fleet of aircraft.

Fuel-inefficient and too large for the mostly short routes the aircraft flies on, the acquisition of the A340 is a curious feat for a country hampered by chronic fuel shortages. While a satisfying explanation will probably forever remain beyond our grasp, the A340 might simply have been chosen for its attractive purchase price or even a lack of a better alternative. At least for now, the A340 will continue to connect the isolated country with major cities throughout the Middle East: certainly an important task.


[1] ''The resumption of flights between Lattakia and the Emirate of Sharjah'' http://iuvmpress.com/25528
[2] Flightradar24 data

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