This means Russian airlines could run out of necessary parts in a matter of weeks, or fly planes without replacing equipment as frequently as recommended to operate safely.
“The priority of the Russian government does not include consumer safety and reliability,” said Charles Litchfield, deputy director of the Center for GeoEconomics at the Atlantic Council, an international think tank.
“Within a year, Russia will cease to have any kind of viable aerospace industry,” said Richard Aboulafia, managing director of consultancy AeroDynamic. He said the country’s aviation industry could soon find itself somewhere among the heavily sanctioned industries in Iran and North Korea.
Airlines are critical to the Russian economy
This constitutes a serious problem for the general economic activity of Russia.
Russia is the world’s largest country by area, more than twice the size of the continental United States. Litchfield said it needed a viable airline industry to keep its economy running.
“The Russians don’t fly the way the Americans do. They don’t fly to Siberia for vacation,” he said. But the aviation industry is an important link for companies, not only for international flights, but also for the domestic service of the energy sector, due to the need for transport engineersAnd the Workers and other equipment to and from remote oil fields.
“It is an important part of the Russian economy. They need this backbone. They need some domestic basics [airline] industry to stay in place,” Litchfield said.
Russian airlines’ domestic operations are a small fraction of the size of the US airline industry’s domestic operations, with about 7% of the number of flights last year, according to Circium data. But unlike the US industry, it has fully recovered from the epidemic and has already flown 8% More domestic flights in 2021 than in 2019, while US domestic flights still lag behind the 2019 total by 22%.
With the Russian economy being hit by the myriad sanctions escalation, it is inevitable that its economy will not require all those flights in 2022, or likely continue for years to come. But the loss of essential parts and the possibility of repossessing the aircraft means that Russia’s ability to recover in the future will be severely damaged.
Planes can be seized
Some of the companies that lease planes to Russian airlines are Chinese companies, and China has not yet imposed any sanctions of its own. It is possible that even Chinese leasing companies may feel compelled to try to seize the Boeing and Airbus planes they have leased to Russian airlines, Abulafia said. That’s because those Chinese companies don’t want to risk any trouble buying planes from Airbus or Boeing in the future.
“These are Western planes. I’m not sure how the Chinese companies will deal with the sanctions,” he said. “Most importantly, these planes will no longer be supported with parts and maintenance. It is a real problem if they lose their airworthiness certificates, which can happen if proper records are not kept, or especially if they are disassembled.”
China has already indicated that it will not ship parts of those planes to Russia, according to a report by Russian news agency TASS citing Valery Kudinov, head of the Airworthiness Department of the country’s Federal Air Transport Agency.
Russia struggles to recover planes
Russia announced plans for a new law on Thursday that would prevent those planes from leaving the country. But that would lead to a situation where airlines would have trouble leasing planes in the future, even after the sanctions are over.
“Russian airlines want to do business with leasing companies. They suspect they will need planes in the future after all is said and done,” said Betsy Snyder, a credit analyst at Standard & Poor’s who tracks aircraft leasing companies. But the forces in Russia asked them not to do this.”
It is much easier for the global aviation industry to live without Russia, which accounts for only about 1% of all commercial aircraft purchases, than it would be for Russia to live without aircraft or spare parts for the US and the EU. Russia’s attempts to build its own commercial aircraft have led to the production of aircraft of questionable safety and have not found buyers in the international market.
Can a country as large as Russia survive without a modern and viable aviation industry?
“This is a thesis that has never been tested,” said Abul Afia. “But it’s about to be.”