Routes Reconnected: Somon Air CEO: “Demand for passenger travel in Tajikistan is very high”
“Demand for passenger travel in Tajikistan is very high,” insists Thomas Hallam, Somon Air’s CEO.
This is both outbound and increasingly inbound, with the country finishing its second year of an initiative to grow tourism, primarily by improving infrastructure.
Russia is Somon Air’s core market, which Hallam said has 80% of the carrier’s traffic. And Moscow is its top destination. “We flew to Moscow three times a day for the last two months or longer.”
Somon Air’s Russian services are seasonal as they carry migrant workers to Russia. They work there, send their money back to their families, and then come back. Earlier this year, a lot of migrant workers couldn’t return, so Somon operated a number of “effectively one-way” flights to accommodate this demand.
Core markets will remain strong
“Post-coronavirus, we think Moscow, Yekaterinburg, and St Petersburg will be strong like they’ve always been,” Hallam said. Its other Russian markets might perform well, but “we won’t really know until we’ve tested that.”
India is important to Somon Air as well, with Delhi starting on a scheduled commercial basis before coronavirus. “We now have about six flights a month into Delhi,” Hallam said.
There are three main reasons for this: warehouses in Tajikistan where it stores medical equipment, mainly from India; it carries a number of Indian students who study medicine in university; and Tajiks go to India for medical care.
Bigger focus on Northeast Asia
Minsk, where the carrier is flying on a charter basis, is a likely contender for future Somon Air scheduled service. Likewise, more flying within Central Asia, to Russia, and potentially to Paris or Amsterdam.
Additionally, Hallam has his eyes on more Northeast Asia. “Looking east has always been equally important to us as a long-term strategy,” Hallam said, highlighting the appeal of Beijing, Shanghai, and Seoul.
Currently, its only Chinese destination is Urumqi.
Unlike China, which Hallam says is more business-orienated, Seoul is tourism-focused. “South Koreans could come here having seen the attractions in Europe and elsewhere more than once.”
Such longer markets have meant that Somon Air has been particularly interested in MAX aircraft. Hallam says these would have another benefit, aside from better fuel efficiency: they could enable its Frankfurt service to be served more economically as its NGs can’t carry a full payload.
Somon Air: not a fleeting moment
Somon Air currently has a fleet of six fixed-wing aircraft, all B737s – 300s, 800s, and 900s – and two helicopters. However, it is currently only operating four 737s, with its -300s have been grounded and will remain so.
MAXs are becoming reality, with the carrier hoping for delivery in summer 2021.
“We are finally getting down to the final paperwork for two MAX-8s. I hope I’ll be signing that before the New Year,” Hallam said. The carrier also expects to have options on two MAX-10s.
The purpose of its MAX-8s is to replace its -300s, Hallam said. This means no change in fleet size but significant improvement in fleet age.
However, its options for -10s would increase its fleet size, likewise a possible order of two to four RJs across the next two-to-four years for intra-Central Asia service.