- Paras Daryanani
Surinam Airways (SLM) decided to replace their Airbus A340 with a 17-year-old Boeing 777-200ER to fly the PBM – AMS route. Here are 5 reasons an Airbus A330-300 would have been a much better choice.
It’s been long since Surinam Airways was profitable. In fact, it’s been so long that most of us don’t remember when that was.
Back in the 80s, Surinam Airways had a beautiful fleet with the iconic DC-8, followed by every avgeek’s favourite: the Mad Dog series, including an MD-87, DC-9 and MD-80 from 2003 onwards. Unfortunately, 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 SLM crew required new training for the aircraft type.
Surinam Airways Boeing 747-300. Credit: Airliners.nl
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, as it no longer needed a flight engineer, had increased range and added more economy seats. Yet Surinam Airways was confident and proud with their -300 purchase.
Surinam Airways Airbus A340-300 (PZ-TCR). Credit: Aeronautics Online.
Along came an Airbus A340-300
After 5 years in service, the 747 tail plane sustained damage while being towed at Schiphol airport in 2009 and the airline reportedly suffered a loss north of $4M. Shortly after, they decided to scrap the then 24-year old Jumbo due to its 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 forming new maintenance agreements 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 (recently they 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 the EU compensation that it had to pay passengers.
Then came 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?
Apparently they were considering a Boeing 777 in 2015 already, but they failed to get ETOPS certified, so they were forced to get another 4-engined plane. A much smarter option would have been to replace their sole A340 with a pair of Airbus A330s, but I’ll get to that.
If it’s any consolation, their new A340 came equipped with In-Flight Entertainment, which is something that their previous A340 didn’t have. I really wonder how the passengers passed the time on the 9-hour transatlantic flight?
Coming soon: a Boeing 777-200ER
Fast-forward to 2019. The A340 was grounded too often and the airline chose to operate flights with Air Belgium A340s every so often. According to recent news reports, the airline was 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.
Air Belgium Airbus A340. Credit: Jetphotos.
So why not an Airbus A330-300?
The airline’s decision to switch to a Boeing seemed like a strange one, when an Airbus A330 would have been a better candidate for replacement of the A340.
Here are 5 reasons why an A330 would have been a perfect replacement:
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 and more 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.
A330 vs A340 Comparison. Credit: Pilothead on StackAviation.
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, does it?
3. Larger airlines are replacing A340s with A330s.
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, considering they haven’t made a profit in ages and their cash-flow is virtually non-existent, being state-owned and what not.
4. The A330 would make a good competitor to KLM’s 747 flying PBM-AMS.
KLM still operates the 747-400 on the PBM – AMS route, which is why their airfares are extortionate. Surinam Airways could offer lower airfares with an A330 and outdo the competition. When TUI commenced the PBM-AMS route with their Boeing 787 they were doing just that by offering airfares up to 40% cheaper than KLM and Surinam Airways.
5. An A330 is simply more profitable than a 777.
The A330 has less 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 7,520 km transatlantic flight. In comparison, KLM has regular flights using an A330 on the AMS-AUA route which is 7,886 km.
What’s done is done
While the PBM – AMS 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 at the time of writing, to be followed by type conversions and support agreements.