Russian aviation drifted towards isolation Wednesday when Boeing (BA.N.) and Airbus (AIR.PA.) stopped the supply of components. Analysts predicted that carriers might either strip parked aircraft for parts or explore other sources to keep flying.
Flagship Aeroflot and other carriers were subject to Western sanctions as the ripple effects of Russia’s invasion in Ukraine hit the global aviation sector.
Late Tuesday, the United States announced that it would join Canada and the European Union in banning Russian flights. This move is likely to provoke Russian retaliation.
Boeing stated that it had “suspended significant operations” in Russia where it has also established research and engineering centers.
Airbus stated that it will stop supplying parts and services to Russian airlines, but is also analyzing whether its Moscow engineering center could continue to provide services to local customers. The company did not specify what type of work it might require.
These bans are coming as major powers talk about reviving a deal that lifted similar sanctions against Iran until Washington pulled out in 2018.
Given Russia’s market size, sanctions against Russia, which refers to its actions in Ukraine as a “special opera”, will have more consequences than those on Iran and North Korea.
Rob Stallard, Vertical Research Partners analyst, wrote that “West lessors are also looking to repossess Russian jets operated by Russian carriers,”
According to IBA consultants, Russia represented 6% of the airline capacity in 2021.
Cerium Fleets data indicates that Russia’s airlines own a total of 332 Boeing and 308 Airbus aircraft, which is about two-thirds of Russia’s fleet.
The number of critical items that airlines have will determine how quickly they can get the parts they need.
The maintenance of jetliners is a constant task that requires regular oversight. This includes daily inspections and heavy maintenance every six months.
Routine problems may not need immediate attention, provided that the problem is resolved within a reasonable time period. However, certain parts are still essential to allow a plane’s departure.
Russian airlines own planes that can be flown domestically as long as they have enough parts, however, carriers might have difficulty getting Russian aircraft serviced in shrinking regions of the world, according to maintenance experts.
Airlines may have payment problems even if parts are available outside of the country after certain Russian banks were excluded from the SWIFT international payment system.
Russia’s advanced fleet is a far cry from Iran’s aging jetliners, which were inherited from decades-long U.S. sanctions.
“It will need to establish a full-fledged maintenance program for certain types of aircraft. Oleg Panteleev of Russian AviaPort analytical company said that before it cannibalizes some aircraft to be used as spare parts.
Panteleev stated that “cannibalization will be possible because there will be no need for planes,”
Although many airlines reuse parts from their planes, there have been reports that airlines have taken parts from leased aircraft.
Lessors have until March 28, 2018, to end contracts that are subject to EU sanctions. However, industry executives expressed concern about whether Russian courts and airlines would comply.
Cirium reports that 515 Russian planes are leased to foreign companies. Cirium has not yet found any evidence that Russian airlines may have taken parts off leased aircraft without authorization.
Some experts predict that airlines will seek alternative routes depending on how long the crisis lasts. Some parts from China are being used on some older planes that do not serve the West. Iran has developed a system for under-the-table supplies over many decades.
Panteleev stated that Russia should find partners and suppliers in third countries to ensure steady shipments of all components.
“But, if these countries claim they are afraid about sanctions, Russia would have to search for foreign experts and create a maintenance program at Russian factories.”
Unofficial parts could put valuable jets into a grey zone, making it difficult to finance them after the war is over. Industry experts believe that Russia’s international carriers with a relatively young fleet would fight to avoid this.
Maintenance agreements can also be at risk.
Aeroflot signed a long-term agreement last year with Hong Kong Aircraft Engineering Company, which didn’t respond to a request.
Russian problems in sourcing spare parts could impact international airlines that fly to Russia, and may sometimes require replacement parts at their destination.
Russian airlines will be prohibited from flying new Western jets. They currently have 62 planes in order with Airbus and Boeing.
Russia’s Sukhoi plans to upgrade its regional Superjet with Russian engines in the meantime.