Russian carriers find ways to circumvent restrictions on aircraft parts.

Key Points:

  • Sanctions hamper maintenance and parts acquisition for Russian Airlines.

  • After Russia's incursion into Ukraine, western countries imposed sanctions, restricting aircraft maintenance and parts supply for Russian carriers.

  • Despite restrictions, Russian airlines imported at least $171 million in parts for foreign aircraft in the first half of 2023.

MOSCOW —Aeroflot, Russia's flagship airline, is grappling with brake replacement issues on its foreign-made aircraft. As of July 31, nine Aeroflot planes, including five Boeing 777s, two Airbus A321s, and one each of A320 and A330, were reportedly flying with deactivated brakes, as covered by "Aviatorshchina."

This uncommon measure is taken when an immediate brake replacement isn't feasible due to malfunction or wear reaching the permitted limits. Safety guidelines allow flying under such conditions for no more than ten days. Aeroflot's Flight Operations Department has alerted pilots about the potential risk of the aircraft overshooting the runway, especially when landing on wet runways with crosswinds.

In a cost-cutting move, Aeroflot slashed its aircraft repair budget by fivefold in 2022. While it spent 19.77 billion rubles on maintaining its fleet and engines in 2021, only 3.86 billion rubles were allocated for the same purpose in 2022. The cutback is attributed to decreased operational metrics amidst sanctions.

Following Russia's military actions in Ukraine, airspace was closed to Russian aircraft by the EU, US, and UK. Major Russian airlines and their leaders faced sanctions. By early March, Boeing and Airbus ceased part deliveries, maintenance, and support for Russian airlines. Additionally, leasing agreements were terminated.

As a result, Aeroflot had to dismantle at least 25 of its planes, salvaging functional parts for potential use on other aircraft. However, by 2023, Russian airlines discovered methods to bypass these constraints. In the first half of the year, foreign aircraft parts worth at least $171 million were imported into Russia, as revealed by "Verstka." An examination of customs data showed that Aeroflot, S7, Pobeda, and Russia purchased parts valued at $47 million, $35 million, $13 million, and $15 million respectively, often employing Chinese and Emirati companies.

Interestingly, while some carriers ordered parts directly, others employed intermediaries. One such firm, "Protector," saw a sudden 1000% revenue spike in 2022. By 2023, the company imported six aircraft engines for Boeing 767, Boeing 737, and Airbus A320, priced between $1.9 million to $10 million.

Nevertheless, aircraft maintenance challenges persist. These part shipments are unlikely to completely fulfill the needs of domestic carriers. According to forecasts by experts at Oliver Wyman, Russia may lose half of its current 736 liners by 2026.