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Balkan prepares for fleet revamp to achieve profit

Arie Egozi/TEL AVIV

Balkan Bulgarian Airlines is moving ahead with a fleet renewal following the appointment of a new chief executive (CEO) by majority shareholder Zeevi Group of Israel.

The fleet revamp comes as part of the airline's reorganisation programme, which is aimed at attaining profitability next year.

Zeevi, which acquired a 75% stake in Balkan when it was privatised last year, has appointed Zvi Frank as president and CEO.

Frank, who comes from the Israeli airport authority, says that the airline is phasing out its three leased Boeing 737-500s and replacing them with larger -300s. Two 737-300s are already leased from GE Capital Aviation Services (GECAS). The first -500 is about to be returned to Ansett Worldwide Aviation Services and replaced by a -300 from GECAS.

"A fourth 737-300 will be acquired soon, and within a year we plan to have five -300s for our international services," he says.

The Bulgarian airline will also phase out its ageing Antonov An-24 turboprops operated on regional services, replacing them with two 48-seat ATR 42s.

Balkan also has 12 Tupolev Tu-154 tri-jets, while four Antonov An-12 turboprop freighters are operated through a Rotterdam-based subsidiary. Frank says that he plans to use the fleet more efficiently.

Meanwhile, Balkan is winding down its maintenance department and laying off 600 of the 1,000 employees as part of the reorganisation plan. The remainder will be transferred to Balkan Technique, the joint venture maintenance operation formed by the airline and Israel Aircraft Industries (Flight International, 20-26 June).

The new Sofia airport-based company will offer narrowbody aircraft conversions and line maintenance.