Slovenian flag-carrier Adria Airways are to facilitate the opening of a new base in the German city of Paderborn with the addition of six Saab 2000 turboprop aircraft, sourced from the now defunct Switzerland-based Darwin Airline.

Although only a single Saab will be based in the western German city it will enable Adria to connect the East of Westphalia with Vienna, Zurich, and London Southend – with fares starting from €159. The remaining turboprops will enable Adria to roll out expansion plans from its primary base at Ljubljana’s Brnik Airport, complementing an additional three Bombardier CRJ900 class aircraft due to be added to its fleet in 2019 – bringing the total of its kind to twelve.

The flight plan taken by the sextet of Saabs has been somewhat circuitous, at times kept in a holding pattern with little certainty of arriving at their intended destination. Seemingly acquired through the purchase of Darwin Airline by Adria’s owner 4K Invest, the initial purpose of the investment appeared to signal further diversification of 4K’s portfolio, although bankruptcy and a subsequent cessation of Darwin’s services under the Adria Airways Switzerland aegis provoked considerable controversy.

Closing Darwin’s base in Lugano initiated a domino-effect of events that ultimately consigned the airline to the annuls of aviation history. Left with a roster of scheduled routes from Geneva insufficient in number to realistically remain a standalone, self-supporting entity Darwin’s demise was swift, the last rites being administered after the loss of wet lease agreements with Air Berlin and Alitalia. There was understandable suspicion in some quarters that Adria/4K Invest had engineered Darwin’s demise to acquire six aircraft on the cheap, although this has never been substantiated. An alternative view could be taken that 4K shrewdly invested in a airline whose precarious raison d’etre in an unforgiving, cut-throat industry had a finite lifespan which would have eventually ended in a similar manner, come what may.

Despite the labyrinthine intricacies of the deal which would ultimately render the Saabs to be at Adria Airways’ disposal, a subplot of Slovenia’s Star Alliance member only incorporating the six aircraft into its fleet once it had reached agreement for the turboprops with Miami-based Jetstream Aviation Capital leaves more questions than answers. Did 4K, through its Adria Airways Switzerland vehicle sell the planes to Jetstream, a specialist lessor of turboprops, for Adria Airways d.o.o. to lease them back? Should such a scenario have come to pass 4K would have received quick cash rather than depreciating assets, but should any realized book debt funds have been ring-fenced to pay creditors during Darwin’s bankruptcy proceedings?

Increasing Adria’s fleet to twenty one aircraft the Saab additions, while broadening the airline’s ability to service an ever burgeoning roster of routes, have also considerably superannuated the average age of its jets. A previously youthful mean life of thirteen years placed Adria at the top, or bottom, of the table of having the youngest fleet in the former Yugoslavia.

For a regional airline to have twenty one aircraft(provisionally twenty four in 2019) at its disposal would suggest it is in rude health, as far as that is possible in such a notoriously unforgiving industry. It is though worth noting that Adria do not own any of the aircraft which they use, instead relying upon a series of agreements with lessors; the arrangement with Jetstream Aviation Capital being just one of several tie-ups with their fleet’s actual owners.

Purchasing an amount of aircraft to allow Adria to pursue its regional ambitions would be financially imprudent as it would be impossible, although the loss of its own tangible assets from when the airline was in public hands does call into question if an airline, just through its name, tradition, and livery can be called as such if it has little to call its own on the annual balance sheet.

Source material and further information:

Ex Yugoslav Aviation:

Jetstream Aviation Capital:

Adria Airways(Paderborn):

Wikipedia(Darwin Airline):

Wikipedia(Adria Airways):