Albin Szakola

Last active SyrianAir passenger jet breaks down

An Airbus A320-232 suffered a technical failure in Saudi Arabia's Jeddah.

SyrianAir Airbus. (Facebook/Syrian Pilots)

BEIRUT – SyrianAir’s last operational passenger jet has broken down in Saudi Arabia, adding further woes to the country’s beleaguered flag carrier.


The Syndicate of Aerial and Maritime Transportation Workers in Damascus issued a statement Tuesday that a Syrian-bound Airbus jet with the registration YK-AKA had suffered a “sudden technical fault” in its engine as it taxied to a runway at Jeddah's King Abdulaziz International Airport prior to takeoff.


“We reassure everyone that this fault is no cause for concern with regard to safety and security,” the Syndicate said, adding that a rescue flight had been sent to Jeddah to repair the jet.


The Facebook page Syrian Pilots had earlier issued two statements on the matter, saying that “the last plane still operating for SyrianAir broke down in Jeddah International Airport [Monday].”


The group dedicated to Syrian civilian aviation explained that the jet, an Airbus A320-232, first flew for the Syrian national carrier on September 7, 1998 and was named “Ugarit,” after the ancient Syrian port city.


A subsequent statement said that another SyrianAir jet—an A320-232 with the registration YK-AKD that has not flow since December—took off from Damascus International Airport carrying a maintenance team that would supervise repairs to the engine of the inoperative plane in Jeddah.


Flight Radar 24—a site that monitors live air traffic—confirmed that that the jet registered YK-AKD had arrived at 1:35 a.m. in Jeddah, hours after YK-AKA had landed in the airport the previous day and not yet flown out of the Jeddah airport. 


The rescue jet—which is named “Mary”—has been out of operations for “several months” and only has only a limited number of flight hours left before its engines reach the end of their service life, according to the Syrian Pilots group.


“We hope that the two planes Ugarit and Mary will return safely to Damascus International Airport, and that the entire fleet will return to service as soon as possible,” the statement said.


The Syndicate of Aerial and Maritime Transportation Workers in Damascus sounded an optimistic note, claiming that the A320-232 stranded in Saudi Arabia would be “fully technically prepared and return with its passengers to Damascus International Airport.”


“From there it will carry out the Riyadh flight and upon its return the plane will undergo its usual periodical test so that it can carry out the Cairo flight directly after the customary periodical technical survey.”


However, the Syndicate noted that upcoming flights to Khartoum and Amman scheduled for Thursday had been postponed.


Other than its passenger jets, SyrianAir continues to operate an Ilyushin IL-76T cargo plane, which has flown into Iran’s Tehran airport on a number of occasions in the past week.


SyrianAir mismanagement


The breakdown of its last active Airbus in Jeddah comes as the latest blow to SyrianAir, which has been the subject of harsh criticism for “mismanagement.”


The Syndicate of Aerial and Maritime Transportation Workers in Damascus on Tuesday stressed “that it is of the utmost necessity that full attention be given to the situation of SyrianAir.”


“The general manager and the board must be given full authority to save the company. Ink on paper is not sufficient.”


Syria’s ruling Baath Party in December warned that the ailing company was facing a severe crisis.


“Nobody, not even the most pessimistic, expected the condition of SyrianAir to reach the condition it has, with three planes going out of service over the last few months,” the party’s Al-Baath newspaper said in a report published December 6.


The daily warned that SyrianAir “continues to work with only one plane, which also [faces the] risk of going out of service at any time.”


In its unusually critical report, the ruling Baath Party’s daily blamed the airline’s woes on not only foreign sanctions, but also negligence among the management of the company.


“There has been a lack of seriousness in taking advantage of the opportunities that have been available to [SyrianAir],” the article said, pointing to the company’s failure to close a deal to acquire passenger jets from Ukraine’s Antonov aircraft manufacturer.


“For unknown reasons the institution abandoned this deal, [which was] negotiated for many months... [This] suggests that someone doesn’t want this institution to develop and advance its work.”


Syria’s cabinet in March 2013 approved a contract to purchase 10 civilian aircrafts from the Ukrainian state-owned company. SyrianAir touted the deal at the time, saying it was planning to expand its fleet with Antonov 148 and 158 jets.


The Al-Baath report leveled harsh words at the management of SyrianAir, citing a source in Damascus International Airport as saying that the crisis looming over the airline is “connected to negligence and failure to take responsibility by many managers.”


“The institution has [made] several administrative, technical and financial mistakes and [no one has been held] to account for them,” the source added.


“Competition” with Cham Wings Airlines


A pro-opposition media outlet claimed the Syrian regime was purposely hurting SyrianAir in order to help Cham Wings Airlines, in which Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s wealthy cousin Rami Makhlouf reportedly has a financial stake.


“Observers believe that government action and lack of support for SyrianAir was in favor of Cham Wings Airlines,” Eqtsad net—which is run by the pro-rebel Zaman al-Wasl outet, reported December 9.


The report added that state-owned and pro-regime media outlets have started the treat Cham Wings Airlines as a “national alternative to SyrianAir.”


Based in Damascus, Cham Wings operates an Airbus A320-214 passenger jet that in December has made flights to Beirut, Baghdad, Muscat, Najaf, Kuwait City and Khartoum. The carrier also advertises flights to Dubai, Doha and Istanbul.


Cham Wings was founded in 2007 as part of the Syrian regime’s privatization efforts, becoming one of the first private-owned carriers in the country. 


Ullin Hope (@UllinHope) translated the Arabic-language source material for this article.

A SyrianAir jet broke down in Jeddah prior to takeoff. (Facebook/Syrian Pilots)

We hope that the two planes Ugarit and Mary will return safely to Damascus International Airport, and that the entire fleet will return to service as soon as possible.