With a fleet of twelve aircraft at its disposal this summer, Adria Airways has maintained a commitment to its existing route schedule and furthermore added services from Lodz and the eastern Slovenian city of Maribor. At first sight the evidence therefore points to a relatively healthy airline, indeed, passenger uptake has increased, heavily contributing to the steady upward trajectory of Ljubljana’s Brnik Aerodrome, adding substantive credence to the feelgood factor associated with Fraport’s acquisition of Slovenia’s primary airport. As has been previously touched upon in this blog, statistics only tell a fraction of the story or of course, form part of a narrative spun to best suit those to whom the data pertains. It will nevertheless come as a large surprise to those versed or otherwise with the details of Adria’s summer timetable that the flag-carrier only owns one of the twelve planes it has been operating.

Well, actually, call it eleven. One of the few larger Airbus A320 jets within Adria’s fleet and leased from the Danish Air Transport company has recently been returned to the lessor, for reasons yet to be specified. Coinciding with a period where due diligence of Adria’s books will be entered into by parties interested in acquiring the predominantly state-owned airline, the stark facts that point to the sum total of assets numbering just one modest sized Bombardier CRJ900-class aircraft will make sobering reading for those tasked with selling the airline as a viable going concern to the private sector. The precise terms of the wet lease agreement for the recently returned A320 are unknown but the prerogative of the lessor to request an early return of an aircraft or to impose additional restrictions of service on an agreement with the lessee places an airline that’s far too at the mercy of such eventualities materializing in an invidious position. A carrier starting from a low base of aircraft cannot expect to elicit large offers but in defence of Adria’s business model, the 2014 sale and lease back of two of its operational Bombardier jets was at the time the only available course of action to avert the permanent grounding of services and ultimately, the demise of the airline.

There are many reasons why the aircraft might have returned early to its parent company but all remain pure conjecture. Insufficient levels of advance sales suggesting there wasn’t a need for a larger aircraft or a mechanical failure that invalidated the agreement cannot be ruled out, especially if Adria Airways Tehnika, the  Brnik-based aircraft maintenance company formerly owned by Adria was unable to remedy the issue to present the jet as ‘airworthy’, especially one that is 22 years old. There does though forever remain a danger to airlines overly reliant on leased aircraft that the owners have received a better deal from elsewhere or have imposed additional, post-agreement caveats to the deal to which Adria are unwilling to accede. This could be the start of a broader trend by the airline to move away from leased aircraft but until more flesh is added to the story, theories will continue to abound as to why the A320 left Adria’s service at least six weeks before the end of its summer schedule.

Further reading on this issue can be found at:

Ex Yugoslav Aviation: Adria Airways returns leased A320