We were as surprised as anyone to see this news. But then stepping back to think about it, there is some logic to this. First, the Russians have something Norwegian wants. And the Russians are negotiating from their strengths. Second, Norwegian needs to cut costs – the MAX debacle costs them hard money in lost seats. Productive flying and doing this cheaper because of improved routing and using lower-cost aircraft is attractive.
The following chart illustrates how Russia’s commercial airline fleet has changed. Is there any surprise that the state, as owners of the desired airspace and UAC, would not want to conflate the deals? Even Russia’s airlines are not big fans of UAC’s Superjet. Russian creativity is understandable.
UAC understands its lack of SSJ progress in the West is because the company’s support and backup have been lacking. Which is why this story is interesting.
However, the establishment of an MRO in Belgrade changes the operational risk profile of the SSJ. If Air Serbia has trained its maintenance staff and has an EASA certificate in hand then matters look promising.
If Norwegian does move on the SSJ it would be no surprise to see that fleet maintained in Belgrade. Indeed, Belgrade might end up as a focus city for Norwegian under this scenario. The southeast corner of Europe could use more air travel options. The SSJ’s range is just shy of 2,000 miles. As the map shows, this range is more than adequate to cover any significant EU market and also much of the CIS.
The combination of aircraft, routes, and MRO looks like there might be something to work with.