By David Kaminski-Morrow in Paris and Vladimir Karnozov in Moscow

Syrian Arab Airlines is closing on a major deal for Russian airliners as part of the recent debt agreement between Damascus and Moscow, as the US trade embargo hinders Airbus’s bid.

Last year the Syrian government launched a state tender for the acquisition of aircraft to replace its ageing fleet of Boeing 727s and 747SPs. This resulted in a package of Russian aircraft comprising Ilyushin Il-96s and Tupolev Tu-204s being offered.

The 2004 US trade embargo on Syria has prevented Boeing from bidding and although Airbus had put together an offer of A321s and A330s or A340-300s, the US sanctions have also prevented it from participating due to the level of US content in its aircraft. It is understood that the airline, which already operates six International Aero Engines V2500-powered Airbus A320s that were ordered in 1997, would have favoured the Airbus solution.

“Unfortunately we’re stuck regarding a contract with Airbus because of the US embargo,” Syrian Arab Airlines chief Nachaat Numir told Flight International at the International Air Transport Association annual general meeting in Paris last week. He added that a Russian-based fleet renewal is viewed as a “serious option”.

The airline is known to have been discussing a $400 million deal to take three Il-96-300/400s and four Tu-204-300s (plus two more later) through lessor Ilyushin- Finance. The acquisition of an Il-96-300 VIP model is also being considered, and Syria’s transport minister is to visit Moscow soon to discuss the deal, including the financial arrangements.

The Syrian prime minister inspected a KrasAir Il-96-300 in Damascus last month, and the government is expected to overrule the proposed lease deal and purchase the aircraft directly from the Russian government, using the debt agreement between the two countries. Russia has agreed to withdraw 75% of Damascus’s $14 billion in outstanding debt accumulated during the Soviet era in return for the purchase of high-tech equipment from Russia on “new terms”.

Source: Flight International