Hmm: Two Lion Air 737s Spotted in Russia

Two planes belonging to Indonesia’s Lion Air were recently spotted, allegedly in Russia…

Lion Air in Russia?

The picture showed two Boeing 737-900ERs bearing Lion Air markings in snowy conditions. It first surfaced in a tweet by the Turkish-language aviation account, HavaSosyalMedya on March 12, 2023, before apparently going viral on Indonesian Twitter. The unusual picture was widely reported on Indonesian national news. Since Lion Air does not operate flights to Europe, many netizens asked the question, “What are they doing there?!”

Lion Air speaks out

Given the significant coverage and apparently mysterious circumstances surrounding the image, Lion Air issued an explanatory statement about the jets. As quoted by CNN Indonesia, Lion Air’s Corporate Communications Strategic offer, Danang Mandala Prihantoro stated:

‘Those aircraft are no longer controlled and operated by Lion Air. They have been returned to the party that leases or loans aircraft to airlines (lessor)’

Danang Mandala Prihantoro (13 March 2023)

Prihantoro then continued with a few run-of-the-mill corporate statements, adding that Lion Air is guided by operational standards and maintains good cooperative relations with lessors.

The S7 Airlines lease

Sure enough, this account was backed up after looking up the visible registration of the aircraft on the right, PL-LPW. shows that the plane has been stored at Moscow’s Domodedovo Airport since March 1 and is due to be delivered to Russia’s S7 Siberia Airlines. This makes a lot of sense since Domodedovo (DME) is, after all, the main base of S7 Airlines.

An S7 Airlines Boeing 737 Max 8 (picture: Anna Zvereva via Wikimedia Commons)

The caption on HayaSosyalMedia’s tweet tells a similar background story. After being translated via Google, the tweet said:

‘While embargoes against Russia continued, S7 Airlines managed to bring two B737-900 type aircraft from Indonesian Lion Air to Russia.

‘The planes will be painted in S7 Airlines colors and given to the flights. For the first time, the airline added B737-900 type aircraft to its fleet.

‘The airline had pre-war orders for the A320neo, A321neo and B737 MAX. A large number of aircraft, which were completed and could not be delivered, were transferred to many airline companies, especially THY.’

HayaSosyalMedia on Twitter (12 March 2023)

Whilst the planes were initially leased from Ireland’s Aergo Capital, their ownership was then transferred to GTLK in February 2020. Lion Air’s lease on the jets expired back in June 2021 and the planes had been stored in Indonesia for nearly two years. It was only in early March 2023 that the planes were flown to Moscow in preparations for use by S7 Airlines.

Wait, what about sanctions?

Whilst many planes destined for Russian airlines are being repurposed for other airlines, these two planes are already legally owned by a Russian company. GTLK, the leasing company that owns these jets, belongs to the Russian Government, which is undoubtedly convenient for S7 Airlines. As such, it is no surprise that the airline was able to acquire these planes without much fuss.

Interestingly yet unsurprisingly, GTLK aka State Transport Leasing Company is also one of the companies hit by UK and EU sanctions.

Closing thoughts

Well, whilst it would’ve been a lot more intriguing had Lion Air commenced flights to Russia, the background surrounding this picture still had been nothing less than interesting. The fact that Lion Air corporate had anything to say at all says something. Honestly, I feel that all this coverage could be avoided had they stripped the planes out of Lion Air colours… but hey, any publicity is good publicity, right? 😉

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