Monday, 10 June 2024 12:09

What’s cheaper: to buy a permit from the Russian regulator or from the Belarusian MFA? Southwind Airlines is going to fly from Minsk to Istanbul Featured

A few days ago, Radio Svaboda noticed a message of the Turkish Southwind Airlines, which says that the carrier starts flights from Istanbul to Minsk from December 15. Ticket prices start from $172, but the main thing is that the flight time is 3 hours, compared to 5 hours on Belavia’s flight Minsk-Istanbul.

However, there are a number of interesting points in this story, which we want to pay your attention to. Let’s start with the fact that this airline is Turkish only on paper, but in fact it is Russian.

We also recall that Belavia is currently under sanctions imposed by Switzerland, the EU and the U.S. Last year, the U.S. Department of Commerce also tightened restrictions against Belavia for flights on Boeing planes violating the restrictions imposed after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. And on December 7, the U.S. Department of Commerce extended these export restrictions against Belavia for another 180 days (for the third time).

So what do we know about Southwind (or Nordwind)?

Southwind Airlines, a young «Turkish» airline, emerged in spring 2022 as a reaction to the restriction of international flights for Russian airlines caused by Russia’s war in Ukraine.

The material base and the basis for its staff were the aircraft and personnel of the Russian Nordwind Airlines, which is owned by the Russian Nordwind  LLC.

And then that’s what happened. 100% in Nordwind LLC belongs to Karine Bukrei, the wife of Turkish-born businessman Ramazan Akpynar, who owns the well-known tour operator Pegas Touristik. A number of sources mention that Bukrei, at least as of 2022, was the CEO of Pegas Touristik LLC, the main legal entity of Pegas Touristic.

What’s cheaper: to buy a permit from the Russian regulator or from the Belarusian MFA? Southwind Airlines is going to fly from Minsk to Istanbul

From Nordwind Airlines to Pegas Touristik motolkohelp

Now let’s take a look at the logos of Nordwind Airlines and «Turkish» Southwind Airlines.

What’s cheaper: to buy a permit from the Russian regulator or from the Belarusian MFA? Southwind Airlines is going to fly from Minsk to Istanbul

Logos of Southwind and Nordwind airlines

The same similarities were also noticed by Armenian journalists, who reported that the tour operator Pegas Touristik is actually behind Southwind Airlines, and Turkey is just a cover to avoid harsh sanctions imposed on Russia after the attack on Ukraine.

Further evidence of this are reports that Southwind Airlines was created specifically to carry Russian tourists to Turkish resorts. This was actually confirmed with their first flight, which Southwind performed in August 2022 from a Turkish resort to a Russian city and back (Antalya — Perm — Antalya). Then regular daily flights from Antalya to Russian cities began.

Russian fleet of "Turkish" Southwind

At the beginning of its operations, Southwind Airlines’ fleet consisted of only three planes, but less than a year later there were 12 of them. And three planes received from Russian Nordwind (reg. numbers TC-GRA, TC-GRB,TC-GRC) are still in operation. At the same time, the geography of flights has significantly expanded: flights from Antalya are now also made to European countries.

There’s an interesting fact about the aircraft fleet: Southwind has several of the newest Boeing 737 MAX 8. This includes one of the MAX planes, which Russian S7 Airlines abandoned due to the lack of an airworthiness certificate and the impossibility of their further operation in Russia.

What’s cheaper: to buy a permit from the Russian regulator or from the Belarusian MFA? Southwind Airlines is going to fly from Minsk to Istanbul

Boeing 737 MAX 8 (TC-GRM) from S7 to Southwind motolkohelp

The use of Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft in Russia was banned back in March 2019. The recertification was not conducted, and after the outbreak of war, on May 19, 2022, the Russian authorities, allegedly in response to Western sanctions, imposed a separate ban on the operation of Boeing 737 MAX 8 over the territory of Russia, which further undermined the plans of Belarus’ Belavia with its only MAX.

Then, in July 2022, a separate easing was introduced to allow transit flights through Russia for holders of such aircraft from «friendly» countries. This allowed Belavia to use its MAX 8 for flights to Asia. Soon, a similar permission was given to the Arab airline FlyDubai, which flies from the UAE to Minsk via Russia on MAX planes (they don’t fly to Russian cities on MAX).

However, there was a short period in spring 2023 when Southwind was allowed to fly to Russia from Turkey on Boeing 737 MAX 8, but then the U.S. authorities blocked Southwind Airlines from flying to Russia on American Boeing 737 MAX, and the company complied. However, the company continued to fly from Turkey to Russia on other models of planes.

Southwind flies to Moscow and St. Petersburg via a short European route. Southwind flies directly to Moscow from the west via Belarus (2S1001 and 2S2001), similar to Turkish Airlines.

Flights to Minsk – there are some questions

It is notable that the announced flight program Istanbul — Minsk at Southwind is planned on Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft. The first flight 2S625 to Minsk will take place on December 15, and at night on December 16 2S626 will return on one of the MAX planes. Then from December 20, the frequency of flights will increase and additional flights will also be performed by MAX series aircraft.

And here comes the question put in the headline of the article: under what conditions did Southwind Airlines get permission to fly on MAX planes?

Given that since December 3, 2023 Belaeronavigatsia introduced a ban on aircraft that enter the airspace of Belarus from Latvia, Lithuania and Poland to land in Belarus without special permission of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Belarus in order to «protect national interests.» In Russia, a targeted ban on the operation of Boeing 737 MAX models in the airspace of Russia is still in effect.

It is important to remember that Belarus has its own state monopolist in the field of air transportation, which despite the sanctions has its own flight program on the route Minsk-Istanbul. Belavia flights B2783 and B2785 are operated daily and have to fly almost twice as long through Russia than Southwind would be able to do in case of flights through Europe (5 hours vs. 3 hours).

This obviously affects both the airline’s costs and pricing. The Southwind Airlines website indicates a one-way flight starting at 5000 Turkish liras (approximately $172).

What’s cheaper: to buy a permit from the Russian regulator or from the Belarusian MFA? Southwind Airlines is going to fly from Minsk to Istanbul

Ticket price for the flight Minsk-Istanbul on December 17 on Southwind website

Belavia’s flight on a similar route on the same day costs starting from 213 dollars.

What’s cheaper: to buy a permit from the Russian regulator or from the Belarusian MFA? Southwind Airlines is going to fly from Minsk to Istanbul

Ticket price for the flight Minsk-Istanbul on December 17 on Belavia’s website

We wonder what regulators in the U.S., as well as the authorities in Lithuania and Poland, think about these plans.

We recall that Turkish Airlines doesn’t fly to Belarus (only transit), including due to sanctions. It won’t be long before Southwind starts flying to Belarus. Let’s see what exactly and from what direction they will fly to us in fact.

And isn’t the fresh and at first glance illogical Belaeronavigatsia’s ban a kind of way to protect Belavia’s prices and put a spoke in Southwind’s wheels?