Recent reports show that Surinam Airways is replacing their Airbus A340 with a 17 year old Boeing 777-200ER to fly their Paramaribo – Amsterdam route. Is this the right decision? An Airbus A330-300 might make more sense.
It’s been a long time since Surinam Airways has been able to call itself a successful and profitable airline. In fact, it’s been so long that most of us can’t even remember when that was.
Back in the 80s, Surinam Airways had a beautiful fleet with the iconic DC-8, followed by the aviation enthusiasts’ so called Mad Dog series including an MD-87, DC-9 and from 2003 onwards an MD-80. It seems that the airline’s golden days ended not long after that.
It started with an old Boeing 747-300
In 2004 the airline decided to restart its transatlantic Paramaribo – Amsterdam route, by investing in an 18 year old 747-300 stored in the Mojave (registered as PZ-TCM). The aircraft required a complete overhaul to qualify as airworthy and needed training for crew.
At the time, the -300 had already flopped worldwide (Boeing only ever built 81 aircraft of the variant) and was being replaced by 747-400s. Unsurprisingly, the -400 was a massive success – it no longer needed a flight engineer, had increased range and added more economy seats. Yet Surinam Airways was confident with their -300 purchase.
Along came an Airbus A340-300
After 5 years in service, their 747 damaged its tailplane while being towed at Schiphol airport in 2009 and the airline reportedly suffered a loss north of $4M. Not long after that, the airline decided to scrap the 24 year old 747 due to age and cost, only to replace it with yet another 4 engined plane, a 15 year old Airbus A340-300 (leased and registered PZ-TCP).
Not only did the A340 require yet another type conversion for flight crew, but also meant new maintenance contracts with different suppliers. Unfortunately it didn’t help when Airbus put an end to A340 production in 2011, making spares even more expensive. While at it, the airline replaced its MD-80 with 2 leased Boeing 737-300s (now replaced one of these with a 737-700).
Whenever the A340 had technical problems, Surinam Airways suffered many delays and flight cancellations, as they were unable to replace it with an alternate aircraft. This meant heavy losses, particularly due to EU compensations that it had to pay passengers.
And another Airbus A340-300
In 2015, the airline replaced their 21 year old A340, with another 17 year old A340 (leased and registered PZ-TCR). Why, you ask? For starters, the ‘new’ one came with an In-Flight Entertainment system, which is something that their previous A340 didn’t have. How did passengers pass the time on the 9-hour transatlantic route?
A much smarter option would have been to replace its sole A340 with a pair of Airbus A330s. Unfortunately, the airline was considering a Boeing 777 instead. At the end, the airline failed to gain ETOPS certification, due to which it was forced to get another 4 engined plane.
Coming soon: a Boeing 777-200ER
Fast forward to 2019. The A340 gets grounded too often and the airline chooses to operate flights with Air Belgium A340s every once in a while. According to recent news reports, the airline is looking to acquire a single 17 year old Boeing 777-200ER, to replace the A340. In fact, this decision was allegedly made by the airline’s director without consulting the airline’s supervisory board, for which he was later suspended. Reports state that the board decided on a Boeing 787 rather than the 777.
Why not Airbus A330-300?
Either way, the airline’s decision to switch to a Boeing aircraft seems like a strange one, when an Airbus A330 would have been a better candidate for replacement of the A340.
There are several reasons for this:
1. It’s the ‘same’ plane, but newer and lighter
The A330 and A340 share identical fuselage and wings. While the A340 has 4 smaller engines, the A330 has 2 larger fuel efficient engines. Thus the A330 is lighter and has a shorter range, yet continues to succeed in performing long haul flights in typical 3-class configurations.
2. Type conversion is REALLY quick
The pair also share a largely identical cockpit, making crew cross qualification a breeze – Airbus says that it takes just 3 days to train pilots with A340 experience to fly the A330. It really does not get any better than that.
3. Larger airlines are already doing that
Large European airlines such as Virgin Atlantic, Lufthansa and SAS are actively replacing their A340 fleets with the A330-300. They’re also looking to acquire A330-900neos and A350-900s due to their fuel efficiency and next-gen technologies, although it’s needless to say that these fall completely out of Surinam Airways’ budget.
4. It’s a good competitor to KLM’s 747
KLM still operates the 747-400 on the Paramaribo – Amsterdam route, which is why their airfares are extortionate. Surinam Airways could offer lower airfares with an A330 and outdo the competition.
5. It’s simply more profitable
Finally, the A330 has a smaller capacity compared to the A340, and this is a good thing. Time and time again the aviation industry has proven that the fewer seats an airline needs to sell, the easier it gets to break even, which comes down to the fact that smaller airplanes are more profitable.
Meanwhile the 777 is larger, heavier, longer range and has a higher acquisition cost, all of which largely exceed the airline’s requirements to run a 7520km transatlantic flight.
What’s done is done
While the Paramaribo – Amsterdam route is in large demand, having 2 A330s would really benefit Surinam Airways in turning a profit, compared to their chances with a 777. Unfortunately, the decision has already been made and a 777 is on its way to Suriname, followed by new type conversions and support contracts.