ESTONIAN AIR IS about to send the first of 25 pilots to Seattle for conversion training to prepare for their new duties flying the Boeing 737-500.

The carrier expects to slash the number of its aircrew from 80 to 37, as it does away with the need for the navigators and flight engineers employed on its 11 Tupolev Tu-134s. Two 737s are due for delivery under a five-year lease agreement with International Lease Finance. The first aircraft will enter service in June.

The Tupolevs, together with four Yakovlev Yak-40s, are earmarked for retirement, and the carrier is hoping to convert all Western routes, other than to Helsinki, to the 737s by the end of the year.

Only six of the Tupolevs and two of the Yaks remain in regular operation and, although one Tupolev will be retained alongside the 737s as a back up, the airline is essentially switching to a Western fleet. One of the Tupolevs is being sold to Slovakia for a reported $200,000.

The carrier will soon begin the selection process for the Yak-40 replacement, having already begun studies of the Fokker 50, Canadair Regional Jet, Saab 2000, de Havilland Dash 8-300, and ATR 42/72.

Technical director Aarne Tork says that, in under four years, he has seen the cost of a 6,000h airframe check on the Tu-134 at the Minsk Overhaul Factory Number 107 rise from $120,000 to some $350,000. "It is an effort to get spare parts for Russian jets," he says.

The first 737, will be used on a Talinn-Hamburg-Amsterdam Service, with London possibly to be added later in 1995.

Source: Flight International