Flight Airlines – known as Polet to many – is in big trouble. One of its large Antonov AN-124 airlifters was seized on RAF Brize Norton this week. Flight’s owner Russian entrepreneur Alexander Lebedev apparently hasn’t payed the bills for the lease of the aircraft since he began operations in May 2013, according to Russian press agengy Interfax.
A second AN-124 Ruslan suffered a similar faith on Moscow Zhukovsky. The actions in Britain and Russia were taken after a Moscow court ruled the aircraft to be grounded until the lease company and Lebedev would have settled their differences.
As far as we know Flight operates another two AN-124s, two AN-148, three IL-96s, five SAAB 2000s and five SAAB 340s. The whereabouts of those aircraft are not known to us at this time.
Swedish inventions go a lot further than just the bits and pieces that come in your regular Ikea furniture package. It is part of the Swedish psyche to re-invent to re-earn money. Take the out-of-production Saab 340 and newer Saab 2000 passenger aircraft. Produced a long time ago, but fairly hot again in a world that might only just be warming up to the type.
The Swedish aircraft manufacturer is actually looking to get its hands on its own aircraft, despite the fact the last turboprop left the Linköping production plant in 1999. The big plan: get them, move ownership and let the new owner pay for that, get him to pay even more money to pimp the planes and get them out in the wild to make name and fame to sell even more.
Now don’t expect the Saabs going in guns blazing, rockets firing and bombs away. But the 340s and 2000s will make excellent surveillance, patrol and anti-piracy platforms for any naval air arm that is short on cash but big in responsibility. A maritime surveillance (MSA) or patrol (MPA) Saab competes easily with the popular CN235 and C295 developed by Spanish CASA/EADS and will be more cost-efficient than yet powered Gulfstreams and Embraers.
That’s why Saab has been working on its Saab 340 MSA the last couple of years. The potential market could be anywhere from 15 to 400 aircraft, depending on how many of the 63 Saab 2000s and 459 Saab 340s produced could be transferred from their current owners to a military force. For about a 120 Saab 340s and 2000s the task is fairly simple, since they are managed by Saab Aircraft Leasing.
A second hand Saab turboprop with at least 40,000 hours of air time on the structural airframe left, updated with the newest software and mission gear is not a dumb investment. The Saab 340s can stay on top of things for 7 hours, the Saab 2000s have an on-station time up till about 9 hours.
The Saabs do have some positive reputation to keep. Both the Swedish, Thai and Pakistan air forces fly an airborne radar and control Saab turboprop, with the boom-like Erieye antenna developed by Swedish IT giant Ericsson (Saab Electronic Defence Systems) literally on its back.
The Flygvapnet ordered four fully equipped Saab 340 AEW&C and another two for transport duties to be fitted with a radar boom during war time. They were designated S 100B Argus, with subtype FSR (Flygspaningsradar) for the radar equipped version and TP for the transport twins.
Of the four fully equipped versions, two were further developed into the S 100D Helas in a bid to please the Hellenic Air Force. The Greeks choose the Erieye, but onto an Embraer EMB-145.
The ‘Greek’ Saabs subsequently became operational with the Swedish Defence Materiel Command (Försvarets Materielverk; FMV) in 2009 and 2010. The Swedes updated the radar to ASC890 standard (Airborne Surveillance and Control) and even named the aircraft Saab ASC890. These most modern Swedish version also got a Link 16 data share system, a new IFF system and Secure Voice plus other sensor systems and software according to NATO standards. The 72. Ledningsflygdivisionen (72 Airborne Control Division) flies the ASC890s out of Såtenäs Airbase, although they are regularly spotted at Linköping-Malmen Airbase.
Of the four older Swedish Air Force S 100B Argus, two were sold to the Royal Thai Air Force, delivered in 2011 and 2012 to serve besides the Saab JAS 39 Gripen multi-role fighters of the RTAF. The remaining two (ex-)SweAF S 100Bs are to be delivered to the United Arab Emirates Air Force as the Saab 340/Erieye AEW&C. That’s right, with the Erieye.
Pakistani Saab 2000 destroyed
The Pakistani Air Force received four Saab 2000 AEW&C (Erieye) aircraft, plus a ‘bare’ Saab 2000 for training. The PAKAF ran in some trouble in August this year, when the Taliban attacked Minhas Airbase in Pakistan, destroying one Saab 2000 AEW&C and severely damaging another two. According to several sources the damaged aircraft need to be repaired for millions to bring the aircraft back to operational status.
Saab SAR and transport
The Japan Coast Guard flies four Saab 340B as SAR-200, especially configured for search and rescue tasks with a 360 degree scanning radar, a FLIR, wide observer windows, rescue equipment like drop systems for self-inflatable lifeboats, special operator and communications systems plus the possibility to carry either passengers or cargo in the rear. Four Saab 340s serve as dedicated transport aircraft within the Argentine Air Force (Fuerza Aérea Argentina).
Meanwhile Saab is showcasing its 340/2000 platforms whenever it can. At the 2013 Dubai Airshow the Maritime Surveillance Aircraft was a coming star, with official certification of the type pending before new year’s celebrations. The ASC890s have been flying around the international theatre of the Nordic countries and highlighted themselves somewhat during Arctic Challenge Exercise 2013 (ACE13).