Russia’s aviation under pressure from sanctions

Aircraft of the Russian company Aeroflot

With Western airspace closed to Russian airlines, domestic traffic could soon face problems as well. In addition to approvals, there is also a lack of spare parts.

(Photo: Reuters)

Moscow, Frankfurt Western sanctions on civil aviation are putting increasing pressure on Russia. After western airspace has already been closed to Aeroflot and other Russian companies, domestic traffic in the giant country with eleven time zones could soon be severely disrupted. Not only is there a lack of Western technology, but also capital and international approvals. President Vladimir Putin is trying to secure at least domestic traffic with his own alternative structures.

Without Western technology, Russia’s current civilian fleet would look pretty old. Around 90 percent of the passenger and cargo planes of Russian airlines such as Aeroflot and S7 came from Airbus and Boeing, says Steven Udvar-Hazy, head of aircraft financier ALC. The old Soviet-era Antonovs, Ilyushins and Tupolevs are long gone and wouldn’t be competitive today either.

Most of the jets are also leased – and are mostly owned by aircraft financiers outside of Russia. They now fear for their property because after the EU sanctions, the contracts must be terminated by March 28 and they cannot get to the planes.

According to the aviation consultancy IBA, on March 10 there were still 523 machines owned by foreign aircraft financiers in Russia. The largest customer is the Russian company S7 Airlines with 101 machines, followed by Aeroflot with 89 jets. Analysis firm Ishka estimates the total value of all machines leased from abroad to Russia at $10.3 billion.

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On Monday, Putin created the conditions for being able to continue operating this valuable bargaining chip in his own country for the time being. After the air traffic control authority on the Caribbean island of Bermuda revoked the airworthiness of all Russian aircraft registered there, the Kremlin is creating its own licensing option, as the Tass agency reported on Monday. For tax reasons, many aircraft from Russian companies were permitted in the British overseas territory, recognizable by the abbreviations VP-B and VP-Q.

>> Read here: All current developments on the Ukraine war in the Newsblog

In the medium term, the regular maintenance of the jets, which in peacetime is the task of highly specialized and internationally certified service providers, could become a problem. According to its own statements, the world market leader Lufthansa Technik maintained around 400 jets on behalf of around a dozen Russian airlines before Putin’s attack on Ukraine and withdrew after the start of sanctions.

Legal procurement of material not possible

There is still some material in the Russian branches that could be enough for a few weeks of operation. Last week, a Russian airline even sent back a truckload of material, a spokesman in Hamburg confirmed.

However, if additional parts are required, the Russians cannot obtain them legally. “Of course, they could delay maintenance intervals, improvise and ‘slaughter’ planes to get spare parts,” says an insider. Certainly the nightmare of the aviation security authorities, but Iran has bypassed US sanctions for more than three and a half decades – at the price of a constantly shrinking fleet, which, moreover, was hardly allowed to land anywhere for security reasons.

Russian medium-range jet MS-21

As an alternative to the Airbus, Russia has built its own medium-haul jet. Initially, parts of the transmission came from the West, but now Russia is also manufacturing the engines itself.

(Photo: imago images/ITAR-TASS)

Russia’s once-proud aviation industry faltered after the fall of the Soviet Union. The manufacturers under the umbrella of the aviation holding company OAK developed two passenger jet types for short and medium-haul routes.

But the Sukhoi Superjet 100 made headlines mainly with breakdowns and problems and proved to be an international flop. And for the medium-haul jet MS-21, which is intended to compete with the Airbus A320neo and the Boeing 737 Max, development and approval were delayed by years.

The technology of Western suppliers is in many places in the machines. For example, the French engine builder Safran is contributing essential parts of the Superjet drive. And the MS-21 owes its thrust to the geared turbofan engine manufactured by Pratt & Whitney in the USA and MTU in Germany.

If there were no Russian alternative for them, the current sanctions would put an end to the aircraft type. However, the Russians have now developed their own engine for the MS-21. And the Superjet should also get a Russian drive. Russia’s aviation industry is familiar with the consequences of sanctions: it has not been allowed to import composite materials for the MS-21 from the USA and Japan since 2019 – and has therefore set up its own production.

More: Sanctions and oil prices jeopardize recovery at Lufthansa Technik

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