Russian airlines, including state-owned Aeroflot, are scrapping planes to secure spare parts that cannot be bought abroad because of Western sanctions, four industry sources told Reuters.
The engine was removed from the Aeroflot aircraftPhoto: Dreamstime
Their removal follows recommendations the Russian government issued in June to airlines to use some of the planes for spare parts, and the remaining foreign-built planes will continue to fly until at least 2025.
That is, sanctions imposed on Russia after it started a war in Ukraine have prevented its airlines from getting spare parts or maintenance in the West.
Almost new A350 aircraft, disassembled for parts
Aviation experts have previously said that Russian airlines will begin removing parts from their planes to make some of their planes operational, but these are the first concrete examples.
At least one Russian-made Sukhoi Superjet 100 and an Airbus A350 operated by Aeroflot have now landed and have been separated, a source familiar with the matter said. The source declined to be identified due to the sensitivity of the issue.
The Airbus A350 is almost new, the source said. Most of Russia’s air fleet consists of Western passenger jets.
Equipment was also taken from some of Aeroflot’s Boeing 737s and Airbus A320s because the carrier needed additional spare parts from those models for its other Boeing 737s and Airbus A320s, the source said. The Russian Transport Ministry and Aeroflot did not respond to requests for comment.
It was only a matter of time before Russia’s planes were ‘cannibalised’
Sukhoi Superjets assembled in Russia also rely heavily on overseas parts. An engine from one such plane has already been removed to allow another superjet to continue flying, the first source said.
Of course, engines are often changed between aircraft and are usually supplied under separate contracts, industry experts explained. They are not considered part of the basic structure of the aircraft.
A Western aviation industry source said it was “a matter of time” before Russia’s planes were “cannibalised”.
The new generation of aircraft – the A320neo, A350 and Boeing 737 MAX and 787 – have technology that needs to be constantly updated.
A year after the sanctions came into effect, keeping modern aircraft in service would be a “challenge” even for Russia’s most developed and efficient engineering base, Western sources said.
80% of Aeroflot’s aircraft are Boeing and Airbus
The practice of removing parts to fly another plane is known as turning decommissioned planes into “Christmas trees.”
Although relatively rare, it was often associated with financial problems and never occurred on the scale of the widespread restructuring expected to occur in Russia.
If the removed parts are put back in place, the planes can resume operation, although this does not necessarily restore the footprint needed for the planes to re-enter global markets.
Many parts have a limited life and must be registered.
About 80% of Aeroflot’s fleet is made up of Boeings and Airbuses — including 134 Boeings and 146 Airbuses, along with nearly 80 Russian-made Sukhoi Superjet-100 aircraft, based on the latest available data, as of the end of last year.
According to Reuters calculations based on data from Flightradar24, about 50 Aeroflot planes – or 15 percent of its fleet, including planes blocked by sanctions – have not taken off since the end of July.
Three of the seven Airbus A350s operated by Aeroflot, including one now being used for parts, have not taken off for about three months, FlyRadar24 data shows.
On the other hand, the fact that Russian carriers are flying fewer routes due to Western sanctions means there are unused planes on the ground that could be scrapped, a second industry source said.
Western manufacturers understand that almost all superjets are operated in Russia, said Oleg Pandeliev, head of aviation think tank Aviaport.
“You can stop making and shipping spare parts — it’s going to hurt,” he added.
Companies from Asia and the Middle East are also reluctant to help Russia
In the plan for the development of the Russian aviation industry until 2030, it is estimated that Russia may face the biggest challenges regarding Bombardier’s A350 and Q-series, as their maintenance is done abroad.
The Russian government’s recommendation calls for the “partial decommissioning of parts of the aviation fleet,” which would make up two-thirds of the foreign fleet operating by the end of 2025.
The main challenge is keeping the engines and sophisticated electronics in working order, Pandeleev said: “It will be difficult for them to fix them.”
Aeroflot, once one of the world’s biggest airlines but now reliant on government support, saw its traffic fall 22 percent in the second quarter of this year from a year earlier, according to company data, as economic sanctions prevented it from flying to most Western destinations.
As companies in Asia and the Middle East fear the risk of secondary sanctions against them from Western governments, shielding supplies from countries that do not impose sanctions on Russia is unlikely to help, the sources said.
“Each individual part has its own (unique) number and documents, if the final buyer of the Russian aircraft, no one will agree to deliver, neither China nor Dubai,” the first source said, adding that all parts must be present. brought to the attention of Boeing and Airbus before delivery to the end user.
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