Contrary to the predictions of many experts, after the imposition of sanctions against the Russian Federation Russian civil aviation has not yet ceased to exist due to the war against Ukraine. After Russia’s invasion of a neighboring country, Western countries closed their airspace to Russian aircraft. Numerous airlines have stopped cooperation with Russian partners and aircraft manufacturers Airbus and Boeing no longer supply spare parts for airliners to Russia.
Many believed that Russian civil aviation would not last even two weeks in such a situation. But six months later, everything looks different. For the majority of Russian passengers, at least within the country, nothing has changed. How is this possible?
“It all depends on a combination of several reasons,” said American aviation expert Richard Abulafia of the consulting firm AeorDynamic Advisory. “Sanctions that can be circumventedthe existing stock of parts, creative problem solving and disassembly of the existing aircraft fleet for parts,” explains the expert.
What saved civil aviation
Russian airlines had more than 800 aircraft before the war, most of them produced in the West. In total, in 2019, before the coronavirus pandemic, more than 120 million passengers used the services of Russian airlines. supplied by Aeroflot. More than half of them used international flights. Since the beginning of the large-scale war of the Russian Federation against Ukraine, these international routes have been almost completely canceled due to sanctions.
According to Abulafiya, the reduction in the number of international routes by almost 50 percent was a boon for Russian aviation at the same time. As the reduced demand for flights makes it possible to dismantle for parts planes that are forced to remain grounded: “Russia’s priority is to keep domestic flights. And if you no longer have to worry about how to get international routes must operate, resources and spare parts can be used for the needs of the country’s aviation”.
Russian civil aviation expert Anastasia Dagaeva agrees: “Given the fact that the number of flights is decreasing, more and more aircraft are grounded and there is no possibility to obtain critical parts, dismantling aircraft for spare parts is, of course, a way out of the situation.”
Russian civil aviation almost exclusively uses modern Boeing and Airbus for passengers. These aircraft were largely leased and owned by foreign investors. This was made possible thanks to a 2001 agreement signed in Cape Town, the expert explains. “The treaty allows investors to assume that all participating countries have low credit risk. This has allowed a developing country like Russia to update its aging Soviet-era fleet in the zero years.” With modern Western aircraft were introduced in Russia and new safety standardsand Western service intervals, says the expert, “resulting in a huge increase in air travel safety and efficiency.”
“We Stole Those Planes”
After the Russian invasion of Ukraine, many foreign investors demanded that Russia return leased planes – about 500 planes worth more than $10 billion. But in March, President Putin signed a law allowing these planes to be re-registered in Russia. “In the end we stole those planes– says Russian expert Vadim Lukashevich, emphasizing with some irony that “now our task is to steal components. Today it is a matter of civil aviation survival.”
Iran was also a great hope for Russian civil aviation. A country in international isolation that has been living under sanctions for decades has developed several methods to circumvent them. But the hopes for Iran did not come true
“Iran used planes from the 1970s and 1980s. These machines don’t rely so much on software or semiconductors,” says expert Richard Aboulafia. “And Russia uses modern aircraft that really need these technologies. Sanctions are a huge problem for Russian aviation. Russia does not have its own significant capacity for civil aircraft production.”
Due to the war in Ukraine, Russia has practically no access to the market for aircraft parts. Which, according to the American expert, will soon lead to Russia running out of parts. “Finding parts here and there, dismantling existing machines for spares – that can be enough for up to a year, and no one knows what happens next,” says Aboulafia. Moreover, since Russia has breached the agreement with Cape Town, leasing companies will not want to take any risks in the future and the country may not have any new aircraft at all.