In between the limited commercial aviation announcements at MAKS2021 this week, there is a small but nevertheless significant one: independent Russian carrier Azimuth Airlines has signed a leasing agreement for six Airbus A220-300s. The Azimuth order opens up Russia to the A220, as it is the first airline in the country to operate the type.
The news was announced late on Wednesday afternoon on the third day of the Moscow International Airshow at Zhukovsky Airport. Azimuth will lease the A220s from Air Lease Corporation (ALC), with deliveries scheduled for 2022 and 2023. The aircraft will get a single-class cabin layout with 148 seats, which is below the maximum of 160 seats Airbus mentions for an all-economy version.
The Russian airline is ALC’s first customer for the type, for which the US lessor signed a Letter of Intent for fifty at the 2019 Paris Airshow. This was later confirmed. Interestingly, Azimuth didn’t select Russian lessor Ilyushin Finance to provide the A220s, although it has fourteen of them on order since 2013. So far, Ilyushin has not disclosed any leasing arrangements for the smallest Airbus. The A220 was a candidate for fleet expansion with Red Wings Airlines until the carrier abandoned the plan in 2019. Kyrgyzstan’s Air Manas is operating a single A220-300 out of Bishkek, the only airline in the CIS states to do so. During MAKS2021, it signed up for the Airbus Flight Hour Services component maintenance services that give access to maintenance, parts, and repair services.
Azimuth Airlines hit the headlines on the first day of MAKS2021 when it announced a leasing arrangement for another ten Sukhoi Superjet 100s. They will join the existing fifteen SSJ100s and are to be delivered until 2026. The A220-order means that Azimuth moves away from a single-type fleet of an aircraft model that has been widely used in Russia to a dual-type fleet, of which the Airbus is a completely new one at most Russian airports. This forms a certain risk, as in the event of a technical problem at a remote airport, Airbus has to demonstrate that it can deliver the required technical support.
Azimuth has operated a single type so far, having a fleet of fifteen Superjet 100s.
It leased another ten on Monday. (Azimuth Airlines)
The independent airline was formed only in 2017 and is based in Rostov-on-Don and Krasnodar. Its ambition is to develop air travel in the Southern and North Caucasus districts and regions within Russia. Azimuth’s network currently includes some sixty destinations like Volgograd, Groznyj, Sochi, and Mineralnye Vody, where it also has a sub-base. It also goes to Murmansk in the far North and to Novosibirsk in Siberia. The airline bypasses Moscow’s two bigger airports to serve only Vnukovo.
On the international network are Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan), Yerevan (Georgia), and Baku (Azerbaijan) in Central Asia as well as Varna (Bulgaria), Istanbul, and Antalya (Turkey), and Larnaca (Cyprus). Some of these routes have been added only recently or returned on the network after a long absence following the pandemic. In the first three years until the pandemic, the airline carried over 2.5 million passengers.
A220 could stretch Azimuth’s network
Azimuth said at the Moscow Airshow that it plans to operate the Airbus on domestic routes to Siberia and on some short international routes. It remains to be seen how far the A220 will stretch the airline’s network. With a range of almost 6.300 kilometers, the Airbus offers the airline a whole new set of options compared to the Superjets, of which the version that is operated by Azimuth only has a 4.200-kilometer range.
The A220s could easily serve destinations in Europe and the Gulf area like Dubai, which is very popular with travelers from Russia and the CIS states. Remember that airBaltic operates the A220 to Abu Dhabi all the way from the Baltic States. As such, the Azimuth order could open up Russia to the A220 as other airlines discover the potential of the type.