Air International 2000-04
A.Mladenov - Balkan Bulgarian Airlines /Commercial aviation/
Balkan’s last two combi-configured Il-18Ds were phased out in February 1999. During their last five years, the Il-18Ds achieved an average daily utilisation of under two hours.
Three Junkers Ju 52/3m were provided by the Bulgarian Air Force to the newly-formed Air Communications Directorate in December 1946. These were used to inaugurate the first domestic scheduled services from Sofia to Bourgas and Varna.
Balkan’s only commuter aircraft, the elderly Antonov An-24V, is used mainly for domestic and limited regional passenger and cargo services. Six examples are still in service and their retirement is expected in early 2000 and 2001.
One of the main tasks for Balkan's An-12s, the carrier’s main cargo type, is the transportation of livestock to the Near East. When needed, additional An-12s are dry-leased from Russian sources.
Two Lisunov Li-2s entered service with the Bulgarian air carrier in 1947. Eight more followed in 1948 and 1949, and the type was the main TABSO aircraft until the introduction of the Il-14 in 1957.
Tu-154Ms are still the principal medium-range aircraft, utilised mainly for Near/Middle East and African routes. LZ-BTH is seen taking-off from Bourgas Airport, providing charter services from West Europe to the Black Sea holiday towns in the Summer season.
Tu-154Bs, such as LZ-BTG (illustrated), are near the end of their 20-year-plus career. The airline’s new owner, Zeevi Group, announced in late 1999 that it intends to replace the Tu-154s with leased Boeing 737-300s in early 2000.
Largest airliner in Balkan’s fleet was the Boeing 767-200ER. Two ex-UTA aircraft, registered F-GHGD (seen here) and F-GHGE, were operated from April 1991 to March 1999.
Airbus A320s saw a brief service with Balkan - four aircraft were leased from Oryx from 1992 to 1996. LZ-ABC/Rhodope is seen taxying at Sofia Airport in the spring of 1994.
Although Balkan usually flew Antonov 24s to Belgrade, Boeing B737-500 LZ-BOA City of Sofia was used to promote the re-opening of the Sofia-Belgrade route (following the 1992-94 ban) on May 26, 1997. B737-500s have gained a reputation as the most reliable Western-made airliner to be used by Balkan.