Concerns are growing in Europe that Russian airlines’ aircraft are no longer safe enough to take off and land in EU countries, according to Handelsblatt.
A few days ago, EU Transport Commissioner Adina Valean blacklisted 21 Russian-based airlines and barred them from taking off and landing. There is probably no clearer indication that the Russian air force is struggling with serious problems.
The decision has no immediate consequences, as the EU has already banned airlines from Russia due to sanctions. But the decision is proof of the existential problems of the Russian air force. As Western companies are not allowed to deliver new aircraft or spare parts to the country that invaded Ukraine due to sanctions, many fleets remain stranded on the ground.
Pobeda, Aeroflot’s low-cost subsidiary, has already shut down 16 of its 41 Boeing 737s for precautionary reasons. In this way, the airline boss Andrei Yurikov wants to stretch the spare parts that are still in stock for the remaining Boeing aircraft until Western companies are allowed to deliver again, as he explained to the Russian news agency Interfax.
However, whether this will succeed is an open question. Estimates by some aviation experts on how long supplies of major maintenance components will last vary considerably. Some say that in a few weeks the aircraft of Western manufacturers will be difficult to take off. Others say the industry is only a few months away.
There are several reasons why predictions are difficult. On the one hand, airlines in Russia can use part of their fleet as a spare parts warehouse. Second, they could try to acquire used aircraft in countries that do not support sanctions and cannibalize them. Airlines in Iran have followed a similar strategy during long sanctions.
Airline S7 must stop expanding
But it is not easy. For example, China is a “friendly state” in the eyes of the Russian government. But the government there has already stated that it does not want to supply spare parts to Russia either. Despair in the Russian air force is growing day by day. Three-quarters of the commercial aircraft used by Russian companies come from Western production, according to EU estimates.
Meanwhile, it is clear that war and sanctions are turning industry in Russia back years. This can be seen in the example of the S7, one of the rising airlines in Russia. The company has a modern fleet of Boeing and Airbus.
Until the beginning of the war, the program included destinations in Europe and Asia. The airline has so far registered 196 destinations in 33 countries. The S7 is also a member of the One World aviation alliance around British Airways and American Airlines. The administration had made plans for the period after the pandemic. A new low-cost subsidiary would be established and new destinations would be served, including in Germany.
However, after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the S7 has been cut off from much of the world. Most aircraft are rented by large leasing companies. The S7 administration must fear that these aircraft will be confiscated as soon as they land outside Russia.
As a result, the airline has cut off all international connections and is only flying inland. Even this becomes more and more difficult due to the lack of spare parts. It is not known whether the S7 cannibalizes aircraft to ensure the operation of a residual fleet. So far, the airline has been considered extremely stable and reliable, also in terms of its financial obligations.
The war in Ukraine is now coming to an end. Even if it is terminated at some point, the confidence of Western leasing companies and aircraft insurers has been permanently damaged. It may take many years for this to be fixed.
The Russian government is preparing for disturbed relations with the West in the long run. Therefore, it wants to increase the production of Russian aircraft again. But this will hardly alleviate the pain of Russian airlines. Russia simply does not have sufficient productive capacity. According to the Tass news agency, Rostec, a Russian state-owned company, has announced that it will build only 70 new TU-214 aircraft by early 2030.
The TU-214 is a medium-range aircraft. With a maximum capacity of 210 passengers, it is comparable in size to the Airbus A321. The advantage from the Russian side is that the aircraft uses almost exclusively Russian materials. Even the electronic systems, ie the electronic ones that are important for the control system, are of Russian origin. Therefore, the sanctions imposed by the West do not apply here.
There are no TU-214s in commercial service
The problem is this: Over the size, the TU-214 and the Airbus A321 are an unequal pair. The TU-214 is definitely a modern aircraft. But the Airbus is much more efficient. TU is considered very heavy and therefore thirsty. That’s why Russian airlines have almost never used it. At present, no aircraft operates commercial flights. The aircraft of this type built are mainly used by the army.
However, Rostec boss Yuri Slyusar sees opportunities for the TU-214. He recently suggested that the Moscow government could make the use of the aircraft attractive to Russian airlines, helping with fuel costs. Such a measure would be conceivable. After all, the Russian government has made it clear that one thing is important to it: people in vast Russia should be able to travel from one city to another as before – regardless of all Western sanctions.
Ambitious entrepreneurs like Vladislav Filev, who founded S7, are unlikely to be satisfied in the long run. The businessman is extremely active. It had already set clear goals for the planned new low-cost carrier: 40 new Airbus A320 neo aircraft would be added to the fleet, and by 2025 the company wanted to carry 16 million passengers a year. The Russian aircraft, however, have not been included in his business plan so far.