Are 40 historically unreliable jets worth access to valuable airspace that would allow low-cost flights between Europe and Asia? That’s the question Norwegian is pondering.
Norwegian is considering a lease of Sukhoi Superjet 100 (SSJ100) aircraft for operations within Europe and Argentina. These mid-size aircraft are larger than a regional jet but smaller than Airbus A320s or Boeing 737s, with seating for up to 98 passengers.
The SSJ100 has a mixed safety record, but is widely used throughout the Russian Federation. Other airlines, like Mexico’s Interjet, have struggled with the SSJ100, though Interjet’s broader fiscal and operational woes may also be to blame. The SSJ100 has experienced three hull loss accidents resulting in 86 deaths, including an incident on Aeroflot earlier this year.
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Why Would Norwegian Buy 40 Sukhoi Superjet 100s?
One Mile at a Time (accurately) calls it a quid pro quo. It’s true: Norwegian would lease these aircraft and in exchange gain access to Siberian airspace. That airspace is traditionally very restricted and very expensive. But access would allow Norwegian to embark upon a new phase of flying between Europe and North Asia, potentially disrupting lucrative markets that have thus far been insulated from low-cost entrants.
That may be the primary reason, but I also see a potential upside in Europe too. With the 737 MAX fleet still grounded indefinitely, Norwegian has had to cut back on several intra-European routes. 200 passengers on the 737MAX versus 100 passengers on the SSJ100 are clearly not interchangeable, but the SSJ100 should be able to fill the hole on key feeder flights to/from Norwegian’s longhaul hubs.
Personally, I think the move is brilliant…if the SSJ100 prove operationally reliable. That’s the looming question. But perhaps that is a risk worth taking for access to new markets and the ability to restore some European flights otherwise impossible without the 737MAX fleet.
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