Key Points:

  • Despite sanctions, Ural Airlines has managed to obtain a good amount of U.S.-made aircraft parts since Russia's invasion of Ukraine in 2022.

  • $1.2 billion worth of aircraft parts flowed into Russian airlines amid U.S. and European trade curbs.

  • Middlemen from non-sanctioning countries like UAE, China, and Türkiye helped facilitate these parts deliveries.

Middlemen Countries Assist Russian Airlines in Skirting Western Sanctions

MOSCOW — In the wake of Western sanctions, Russian airlines have resourcefully maintained their fleets. A notable incident last year saw a grounded Ural Airlines Airbus in Yekaterinburg receiving a crucial navigation system part valued at over $250,000. Produced by American company Northrop Grumman, this component allowed the jet to resume its operations across Russia and Central Asia, flight data reveals.

Customs data indicates a flow of at least $1.2 billion worth of aircraft components into Russian airlines between May of the previous year and June this year. This massive import occurred despite Western embargoes related to the Ukraine conflict. The components ranged from critical maintenance parts, including the U.S.-made devices, cockpit displays, and landing gear, to regular spares like coffee machines and toilet seats. These parts navigated through third-party countries, such as Tajikistan, UAE, Turkey, China, and Kyrgyzstan, which haven't implemented Western sanctions against Russia.

Ural Airlines and Western Parts: The Elusive Procurement Channels

Ural Airlines' procurement practices under sanctions remain an enigma. Deputy CEO Kirill Skuratov refrained from revealing the acquisition methods for the spare parts. Additionally, after evaluating the list assembled by Reuters, Northrop Grumman couldn't identify any sales or repair activities connecting them with Russian entities. The firm emphasized its stringent compliance mechanisms concerning global export and sanctions regulations. The U.S. government stands firm on the impact of its export controls, asserting their detrimental effects on Russian aviation.

Russian Aviation Thrives Despite Sanctions; New Suppliers Fill the Gap

Oleg Panteleev from Moscow's AviaPort aviation think-tank elucidated how Russian airlines adapted to sanctions. Initially paralyzed, carriers swiftly established new supply routes, ultimately leading to cost and delivery efficiency. The EU is actively coordinating with countries that mirror its trade restrictions to ensure no evasion of curbs. Notably, the sanctions did disrupt the Russian aviation sector, with some carriers resorting to cannibalizing planes for components. However, as of May this year, the Russian aviation landscape resembled its pre-war state, data from Swiss analytics firm ch-aviation disclosed. With limited Russian-made aircraft in their fleets, these airlines would have faced significant downsizing.

Formerly, major Russian airlines such as Ural Airlines and Aeroflot relied on renowned global entities like Germany's Lufthansa Technik for maintenance support. But sanctions prompted them to shift to smaller suppliers.