A start-up from South Africa decides to buy Superjet 100 jets

A South African entrepreneur has announced plans to set up Skylink Airways with a fleet of ten Superjet 100 aircraft. It will be the first SSJ100 operator in Africa

South African entrepreneur Clarence Andrea Steyn intends to set up a new airline in the country called Skylink Airways. He revealed this in an interview with Aerotelegraph.

“The launch is scheduled for September 2022,” Steyn said. According to the businessman, the airline’s fleet will consist of ten Russian Superjet 100 aircraft. It intends to buy five of them and lease five more. The startup will be the first SSJ100 operator on the continent.

Speaking to RBC, Stein said he was in talks to purchase the aircraft with Pavel Panyukov, director of Regional Aircraft (a subsidiary of Irkut Corporation) for sales of commercial airliners. The company is engaged in the development and serial production of the Superjet 100.

The businessman said that he would soon reach an agreement with the SSJ100 manufacturer, to be held in Moscow ahead of the MAKS air show scheduled for July in Zhukovsky. The businessman has promised to open a representative office of his airline in the Russian capital this year.

“My choice is clear, Sukhoi is a fuel-efficient aircraft with new technology and this aircraft is the ideal aircraft that I plan to use in Africa, South Africa and the surrounding islands. In addition, I believe that the precision of the aircraft builders in Russia is not only attractive, but also contributes to the success of Sukhoi,” the businessman said.

In the future, Stein said, he expects to add MS-21 aircraft to the fleet.

When asked how much money was planned to be invested in the project, Steyn did not give specific amounts, but noted that Russian and South African investors would be involved. “At the moment I am the owner and sole shareholder of South African Skylink Airways. So, I think the founder should take the right position. As you know, other shareholders will be involved soon and the company will be publicly listed,” he said.

The entrepreneur also revealed that he was born and raised in South Africa but is Russian-speaking and is currently trying to obtain Russian citizenship and residency permits for himself and his son Max.

Irkut confirmed to RBC the South African entrepreneur’s interest in the SSJ100 aircraft. “Consultations are ongoing,” the corporation said, but did not disclose other details.

The company stressed that interest in acquiring these liners from leasing companies and air carriers is growing. “The airliner turned out to be in demand amid a general decline in passenger traffic due to the pandemic. South Africa is a promising region for the supply of Russian civil aircraft,” it said.

In an interview with Aerotelegraph, the entrepreneur said Skylink Airways should fill a niche in South Africa that has emerged due to difficulties with the national carrier, South African Airways. The airline will operate both domestic and international flights, mainly to other African countries. The SSJ100 will also fly to the islands of Mauritius, Reunion and Comoros. In addition, it plans to purchase two second-hand Embraer 190 aircraft to fly to St Helena.

In 2018, Belgian Brussels Airlines refused to operate the SSJ100 – the company decided not to renew its contract for the use of three liners in favour of aircraft from Canadian Bombardier. The company attributed this to a shortage of spare parts, due to which these machines were idle for a long time. The Belgian carrier operated the Superjet 100 under a wet lease (when an aircraft is leased out together with the crew). It was provided with its aircraft by Irish company CityJet, which abandoned the SSJ100 in February 2019.

The second foreign operator of the SSJ100, Mexico’s Interjet (which bought 22 of the 30 airliners ordered), also tried to get rid of them in the summer of 2019. At the end of April, Bloomberg wrote that Interjet had gone bankrupt amid a coronavirus pandemic.

The Superjet 100 is now operated abroad by specialised carriers in Kazakhstan and Thailand. There are five Superjet 100s operating there.