Let’s go to Scandinavia for this latest edition of FLEET PROFILES and delve into the Flag Carrier airline that serves three European countries- SAS Scandinavian Airlines.
Formed by a co-operation of the Danish, Norwegian and Swedish Governments, SAS Scandinavian Airlines System (SAS) came as a way for the three collective Scandinavian countries could invest and build a necessary air link system connecting the three countries to the world. The airline was formed when the leading airlines of the three countries merged, those airlines were: Svensk Interkontinental Lufttrafik (Swedish Intercontinental Airlines), Det Danske Luftfartselskab (Danish Airlines) and Det Norske Luftfartselskap (Norwegian Air Lines).
Over 70 years onwards, “SAS” has become a leading player in the European aviation market. The airline offers long haul and short haul hubs from its main bases at Oslo Gardermoen (replacing the original hub at Oslo Fornbeu in 1998), Stockholm Arlanda and Copenhagen Kastrup. The airline has a few other smaller bases in Sweden and Norway. The airline carried over 28 million passengers and drew in 40 billion Swedish Krone (SEK) profit in 2017 alone, despite heavy competition in the EU’s free market.
Notably- Of the three Scandinavian countries involved in SAS, Norway is the only one not a member of the vast European Union, which Sweden and Denmark are members. Despite this, Norway has been a member of European Economic Area, giving it the same economic rights as its EU partners, allowing SAS to continue as a tri-country operation.
However- this article we are profiling the fleet of SAS, which in recent years has been going through major changes, so let’s see how the airline shapes up!
The airline has been using the Boeing 737-NG family since the late 1990’s, the airline acquired many Norwegian registered Boeing 737’s from the merger with Braathens in 2004. However the 737s are numbered at SAS as the airline seeks to focus its short haul fleet on one type- the Airbus A320-neo, a full circle given the Boeing 737s in their heyday replaced the classic favourites McDonnell-Douglas DC-9/MD-80 family in the mid-late 2000’s.
With their introduction in 1998, the Boeing 737-NG were the first aircraft to be delivered in the current livery that SAS has used for the last two decades. Consisting of a grey fuselage, orange engines and a blue tail with “SAS” and “Scandinavian” adorned in white.
The airline operates a fleet of Boeing 737-600, which is one of the first 737-NG family to be disposed of. The airline found a good market for them operating domestic routes within Norway and Sweden mainly. Whilst 30 aircraft have been operated since 1998, twenty one years later- only 8 remain flying, most of the aircraft going for scrap (like its Airbus rival the A318) due to the lack of interest compare to the larger siblings. The SAS 737-600 normally carry about 120 passengers, partly a reason for their downfall.
The Boeing 737-700/-800 will continue for a number of years, mainly based in Norway and Sweden. The Boeing 737-700 carry 141 passengers and the larger Boeing 737-800 carry 181 passengers. SAS Scandinavian Airlines is notable for being one of the last few airlines to operate Boeing 737-800 (or any 737-NG) without the winglet devices that have become common practice for most airlines that operate them. The airline operates a total of 67 Boeing 737-700/-800 aircraft (32x 737-700 and 35x 737-800).
As of July 2019, LN-RRL and LN-RRW are the only 737s to wear special liveries- adorned by the Star Alliance livery that the airline was a founding member in 1997.
Airbus A320-ceo Family
The small fleet of Airbus A320 aircraft have been preparing SAS for the eventual transition to an all Airbus A320-NEO fleet in the coming years.
The Airbus A321 fleet (based in Copenhagen) of eight aircraft began to arrive in 2001, the airline has used them ever since. They are primarily used on routes with high demand of passengers, namely Frankfurt Main, London Heathrow and Paris Charles DeGaulle. They were the first short haul Airbus planes to arrive into the SAS fleet.
In 2006, the four Airbus A319 arrived into the SAS fleet. Allowing for some flexibilty alongside the Airbus A321 aircraft already being used. Likewise with their older siblings- the Airbus A319 fleet is based at Copenhagen, with Swedish and Norwegian bases using a dedicated Boeing 737/McDonnell-Douglas MD-80 fleets. The aircraft arrived coinciding with the 60th Anniversary of SAS and as a result the first delivery (OY-KBO) was painted up in the airlines 1950s Retro livery, it continues to wear this livery 13 years later!
The early 2010’s saw the final MD-80 aircraft retired from SAS (having used the DC-9 and MD-80 family since the mid 1960s), whilst SAS operations in Sweden and Norway chose to use Boeing 737-NG, the Danish branch opted to buy second hand Airbus A320-ceo to compliment their already existing Airbus A321/A319 fleets. The first aircraft arriving in 2012.
The Airbus A321 and Airbus A320 days are already numbered as SAS has decided to replace them with newer and more economical Airbus A320-neo aircraft, a fate also sealing their American built counterparts (Boeing 737).
One of the first airlines to take on the Airbus A320-neo in Europe, the Airbus A320-neo is the answer to fleet consolidation and modernisation for SAS.
The airline has 21 aircraft in their fleet as of July 2019, the airline has also ordered 50 more, so the airline can phase out its 15-20 year old Airbus A320-ceo and Boeing 737-NG fleets. Allowing for lower operating costs for the airline across Norway, Sweden and Denmark.
Nine planes carry Irish registrations as part of an Irish based subsidiary operating flights from London Heathrow and Malaga to Norway, Sweden and Denmark. It was formed in an attempt to reduce labour costs, and given the airline’s presence in London- gives it an opportunity to have a crew base there, rivalling the Norwegian Air Shuttle base at London Gatwick.
The Airbus A320-neo cabin is a lot lighter in colour to the Airbus A320-ceo & Boeing 737-NG fleet and despite offering the same services- these aircraft are able to also offer wi-fi services and USB charging ports.
Four Airbus A330 were added alongside the larger Airbus A340 to allow SAS to operate shorter or lower demand long haul services, in order to replace the inefficient Boeing 767 fleet.
But as fuel costs rose and the age of the Airbus A340 increased- SAS later moved to order another four Airbus A330-300 which came in 2015/16 featuring the new SAS long haul cabin design.
The Airbus A330 can carry 264 passengers in a layout of 3 cabins. SAS Business which allows up to 32 passengers, SAS Plus (a premium economy) which can accommodate 56 passengers and the SAS GO (Economy Class) which makes up either 174 or 178 passengers depending on which aircraft and cabin is featured.
Whilst the Airbus A330 often can alternate with the Airbus A340’s the A330 can often be seen flying from the airlines three main hubs to Beijing- China, Newark- USA, Miami- USA, Chicago- USA, Hong Kong- China and Boston- USA.
With the Airbus A350 on order to replace the ageing and now inefficient A340 fleet, the writing is effectively on the wall for the fleet which was delivered in the early 2000’s to replace the Boeing 767- which was under performing for the airline.
The Airbus A340-300 has longer range, despite a lower passenger configuration compare to the Airbus A330, which sees it deployed mainly from Stockholm and Copenhagen to routes in the Far-East of Asia. The A340 often sees itself in locations that have included: Hong Kong- China, Shanghai- China, Tokyo- Japan, Bangkok- Thailand and San Francisco- USA.
Carrying the same three class layout as the Airbus A330, the Airbus A340 carries two cabin designs allowing for either 234 or 247 passengers across SAS Business, SAS Plus and SAS GO.
Eight air frames remain in the SAS fleet, with a combined average age of 18 years. All delivered in the early 2000’s.
Since July 2012, Airbus A340-300 OY-KBM, wears the Star Alliance livery.
SAS has regional operations in Sweden and Denmark operated by a fleet of nine ATR 72 aircraft. A plane that is extremely economical to run for short hop regional flights.
Whilst SAS doesn’t operate the fleet itself, the aircraft are leased in from Flybe and Nordica. The planes all carry a cabin in an all economy layout with a total of 70 passengers per plane. All the planes wear the normal SAS livery with the only indication of their owners being the Estonian or British registrations.
The addition of the ATR fleet was partly influenced by the removal of the previous Dash 8 Q-400 fleet in 2009/10 when a series of nose undercarriage mishaps caused a serious backlash and major PR disaster for the airline.
Whilst the Bombardier Dash 8 fleet was removed- the airline still uses leased CRJ-900 from CityJet (who took over Finnish airline and SAS partner Blue1 to accommodate this). The Irish registered jets offer the airline a chance to fly to destinations within the Nordic region and Europe where they need something bigger and with better range than the ATR, but not warrant a full sized short haul jet like the Airbus A320 or Boeing 737.
The leased Bombardier CRJ fleet flies from SAS bases across all three countries they base from and they carry a full load of 90 passengers in an all economy class configuration.
Some European destinations (Mainly Germany and Finland) that do get a CRJ-service from SAS include: Dusseldorf- Germany, Amsterdam- Netherlands, Hamburg- Germany, Brussels- Belgium, Helsinki- Finland, Berlin- Germany and on a rare occasional service from Bergen Norway- London Heathrow.
And on that note, thank you for reading this edition of fleet profiles. SAS Scandinavian has huge changes on the way and it will be interesting to see how they come together over the next few years.