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1 Mar 2023

Siddharth Vikram Philip, Bloomberg

Russian airlines continue operating Western-made fleet by moving components from old aircrafts & sourcing them from allies despite imposed sanctions

Russian airlines are flying high despite sanctions, 1 March 2023

As western Europe and the US imposed sanctions last year in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, civil aviation looked like a promising place to inflict maximum pain. Russian airlines, after all, fly jets mostly from Airbus SE and Boeing Co., which are barred from doing business in Russia. And more than two-fifths of those aircraft were owned by foreign leasing companies that immediately demanded their property back.

But one year into the war, Russian carriers are still operating 467 Airbus and Boeing jets, versus 544 a year ago, according to researcher Cirium. Although Russia’s airlines have eliminated flights to the US, western Europe and allied countries, they’ve ramped up service to Thailand, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates, alongside former Soviet republics such as Armenia, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. And they fly about 1,100 daily domestic flights, down about 15% from a year earlier—a much smaller decline than Ukraine’s backers had expected after sanctions...

...To keep its airline sector afloat, the Kremlin barred any return of the leased planes to their owners abroad and encouraged carriers to re-register them in Russia. So most of the jets continue to fly, though they’re cut off from crucial software upgrades and upkeep mandated by regulators that are needed to guarantee their airworthiness.

Aircraft operators must adhere to a rigorous maintenance regime overseen by licensed engineers and governed by national or pan-national regulators such as the US Federal Aviation Administration, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency or Russia’s Federal Agency for Air Transport. In addition to daily inspections, planes require more intensive service after roughly 200 flights and heavy checks every decade or so, when they’re taken apart for a thorough examination.

Boeing says it hasn’t provided parts, maintenance or technical support to airlines or maintenance companies in Russia since early last year, in line with US sanctions. Airbus Chief Executive Officer Guillaume Faury said...that company data show Russian airlines flew his company’s jets more in the second half of 2022 than they did before the pandemic. Although Faury added that the company isn’t in contact with airlines in Russia, Airbus is starting to hear about difficulties keeping planes flying as they struggle to replace missing components.

To keep operating, Russian carriers are sourcing parts from “friendly” countries and have moved components from one aircraft to another, the Kremlin’s aviation regulator told Russian business daily RBC...And the regulator in February approved an agreement with Dubai engineering firm Global Jet Technic, which says it performs routine preflight inspections on Airbus and Boeing planes flown by Russian airlines.

As Russian carriers cannibalize planes for parts, they’re ultimately shrinking their fleets, because the donor aircraft will lack components needed to operate, and sanctions mean the carriers can’t buy certified replacements. Airlines are required to log every component that they repair or replace, along with documentation of the provenance of parts used. With the Russians now operating outside the established global regime for tracking those changes, the planes likely lack those records in sufficient detail, rendering them effectively impossible to resell...

Part of the following timelines

Ukraine: Global outrage over Russian invasion leads to sanctions, demands for businesses to divest

Russia: Auto & aviation industries take stock following invasion of Ukraine

Russia: Auto & aviation industries take stock following invasion of Ukraine