- Boeing and Airbus have stopped supplying spare parts to Russian airlines as part of sweeping sanctions.
- The move could leave planes without the required repairs needed to keep Russian aircraft airworthy.
- Airlines may look at alternate options for getting parts, like cannibalizing grounded jets or buying from China.
Russian airlines are feeling the impact of sanctions imposed by world leaders to punish Russian President Vladimir Putin, and analysts say the carriers may soon cripple.
When the European Union required aircraft lessors to end their contracts with Russian airlines by March 28, a domino effect was ignited that could cut off Russia’s access to passenger jets or prevent its carriers from flying internationally.
Because of the sanctions, aircraft in Russia will need to be returned to their foreign owners. But, according to Henry Harteveldt, president of Atmosphere Research Group, lessors may face challenges getting the estimated $12 billion worth of planes out. Factors like closed airspace and pushback from Russian authorities and airlines are exacerbating the problems.
“It’s possible the government could choose to challenge the lessors’ abilities to repossess these planes, claiming Aeroflot is not doing any harm by operating the aircraft domestically,” Harteveldt told Insider.
However, as much of the world continues to shut out Russia, its airlines are starting to face new problems. Russia could be further isolated due to Airbus and Boeing stopping the supply of spare parts to the nation, Reuters reported.
“We have suspended major operations in Moscow and temporarily closed our office in Kyiv,” Boeing said in a statement to CNN. “We are also suspending parts, maintenance, and technical support services for Russian airlines.”
Airbus said Wednesday that it will also stop sending supplies to Russia, though it is still deciding whether to keep its Moscow operation open to service local customers, The Guardian reported. Cirium Fleets data shows about two-thirds of commercial planes in Russia are from Boeing and Airbus.
Without the supplies from manufacturers, planes could be left without the required repairs to fly. Moreover, as more countries close their airspace to Russian airlines, it will become difficult for companies to find a place outside Russia that will service their aircraft, maintenance experts told Reuters.
Oleg Panteleev, head of Russian AviaPort analytical agency, said Russia could turn to seedy alternatives if inventory runs out, like unauthorized parts from China or under-the-table supplies from Iran.
“Of course, it would be good for Russia to find suppliers and partners in third countries who would be ready to ensure stable shipments of all necessary components,” Panteleev told Reuters. “But if these countries say they are afraid of sanctions, Russia would need to search for foreign specialists and create a maintenance system at Russian factories.”
The move to use potentially uncertified parts could create a “Frankenstein fleet,” making Russian planes “worthless outside the former Soviet Union,” Nick Cunningham, an analyst with Agency Partners, told Bloomberg.
Some analysts also worry about companies “cannibalizing” other planes on the ground, including those owned by lessors.
“It [Russia] will have to create a full-fledged maintenance system for some types of aircraft. But before that…it will need to cannibalize some aircraft for use as spare parts,” Panteleev explained to Reuters.
Peter Walter, an industry consultant at IBA, echoed Panteleev, telling Bloomberg that he expects airlines to begin robbing planes on the ground in Russia “in order to keep the remainder of the fleet operational.”
Due to US and EU sanctions, Russian airlines will not be able to accept the over 60 planes on order from Airbus and Boeing, according to the planemakers’ websites, further reducing the number of available parts.
However, Russia’s Transportation Ministry is considering “buying or even nationalizing” the hundreds of Airbus and Boeing planes in Russia, providing plenty of supplies to cannibalize, Bloomberg reported.
“The lessors may end up having to take a writeoff,” Cunningham said.