If you could pin-point one particular event that was the turning point that marked the beginning of the end for Fokker aircraft in Asia, it would have to be the Air Bagan Fokker 100 crash in Myanmar on Christmas Day (Dec. 25, 2012).
News reports on the accident - that killed two people and injured 11 others - referred to Air Bagan’s Fokker 100 as an “aging” aircraft. The airframe was built in 1991, and as any airline executive will tell you, it is not the age of the aircraft that is so important – in terms of safety – but how well it is maintained. Latest reports, quoting officials in Myanmar, say pilot error was a contributing cause for the Air Bagan crash.
Myanmar’s Department of Civil Aviation (DCA), however, introduced new regulations earlier this year stipulating that aircraft imported into the country must be no older than 20 years and aircraft already in Myanmar must be no older than 25. Air Bagan’s other Fokker 100 is a 1989-build, which means it will have to be phased out in 2014. That is not that far away. The airline will also need to find a replacement for its 1991-build aircraft that crashed. It is unlikely to get another Fokker 100. Meanwhile, another carrier there – Myanma Airways – has announced it is replacing its Fokker F28s with Embraer 190s.
The allure of the Fokker had been that these out-of-production aircraft were cheap to buy, but still highly capable. The fact that the aircraft are no longer being made, however, means that access to affordable spare parts is becoming an issue. The head of maintenance at Air Astana, John Wainwright, told me in September that they had a problem with one of their Fokker 50s. The aircraft needed a spare part, but none were available and it was going to take several weeks before Fokker could manufacture a spare part from scratch. Fortunately for Air Astana, rather than ground the Fokker 50 for several weeks, Dutch leasing company AFT, which owned the aircraft, agreed to take a spare part from another Fokker 50 that had already been grounded. Not all operators in that situation, however, will be so lucky. Air Astana has been phasing out its Fokker 50s; the last two are due leave the fleet next month.
I think the next regional jet that Air Bagan gets is more likely to be a second-hand Bombardier CRJ700/CRJ900 or a second-hand Embraer 190. These two types are still in production and lease rates on these are getting more affordable.
Myanmar is one of the last markets in Asia where Fokker still has a sizeable presence, but with the new DCA regulations and the stigma resulting from the Air Bagan crash, that will soon no longer be the case.
When I first started covering aviation in January 2003, Fokker had operators in Japan (Air Central), Thailand (Air Andaman), South Korea (Korean Air), Taiwan (Mandarin Airlines) and Malaysia (MASwings and Firefly). But since then, Air Andaman has gone bust and the other operators have phased out their Fokker aircraft.