Exclusive: Russia starts stripping jetliners for parts as sanctions bite

  • The material was produced in Russia, where law prohibits coverage of Russian military operations in Ukraine

MOSCOW, Aug 8 (Reuters) – Russian airlines including state-controlled Aeroflot (AFLT.MM)Jetliners are being scrapped to secure spare parts they can no longer buy abroad because of Western sanctions, four industry sources told Reuters.

The steps are correct Advice given by the Russian government in June Airlines must use some of the planes for parts to ensure that the remaining foreign-made planes continue to fly until at least 2025.

Sanctions imposed after Russia sent troops into Ukraine in late February have prevented its airlines from receiving spare parts or carrying out maintenance in the West.

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Aviation experts have said that Russian airlines will begin buying their parts to keep their planes in the air, but these are the first detailed examples.

At least one Russian-made Sukhoi Superjet 100 and an Airbus A350, both operated by Aeroflot, are currently grounded and being 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 aircraft fleet consists of Western passenger aircraft.

Equipment was being taken from some of Aeroflot’s Boeing 737s and Airbus A320s, as the carrier needed more spare parts for those models for its other Boeing 737s and Airbus A320s, the source said.

The Russian Ministry of Transport and Aeroflot did not respond to requests for comment.

‘a matter of time’

Russian-assembled Sukhoi Superjets also rely heavily on foreign parts. An engine has already been removed from one superjet to allow another superjet to continue flying, the first source said.

To be sure, engines are frequently changed on planes and are usually supplied under a separate contract, industry experts said. They are not considered part of the core airframe.

Western aviation industry sources say it is “only a matter of time” before Russia-based airlines become cannibals.

The new generations of jets – the A320neo, A350 and Boeing 737 MAX and 787 – have technology that needs to be constantly updated.

Within a year of the sanctions taking effect, keeping modern aircraft in service will be a “challenge” even for Russia’s highly developed and capable engineering base, Western sources said. Read on

The practice of removing parts to keep another aircraft flying is commonly known as turning unused aircraft into “Christmas trees”. Although relatively rare, it is often linked to economic difficulties and has never occurred on the scale that has been predicted in Russia to address the effects of sanctions.

Jetliners can be put back into service if the removed parts are put back in, however this does not necessarily require the reorganization of traceability that jets need to re-enter the world market.

Many parts have a limited life that must be logged.

Almost 80% of Aeroflot’s fleet consists of Boeings (BA.N) and Airbus (AIR.PA) – It has 134 Boeing and 146 Airbus, along with 80 Russian-made Sukhoi Superjet-100 aircraft available at the end of last year.

About 50 Aeroflot planes – or 15% of its fleet, including jets stuck due to restrictions – have not flown since late July, according to a Reuters count based on data from Flightradar24.

Flightradar24 data shows that three of the seven Airbus A350s operated by Aeroflot, including those now being used for parts, have not flown for nearly three months.

Russian carriers are flying fewer routes because of Western sanctions, meaning there are unused jets grounded that could be scrapped, another industry source said.

“Western manufacturers understand that almost all superjets are operating in Russia,” said Oleg Panteleev, head of the Aviaport aviation think-tank. “You can just stop shipping product and spare parts – and that will hurt.”

Dismantling

The development plan of the Russian aviation industry until 2030 predicts that Russia will face the biggest challenges with the A350 and Bombardier Q series as they are maintained abroad.

The Russian government advises “partial decommissioning of parts of the aircraft fleet”, which will leave two-thirds of the foreign fleet in operation by the end of 2025.

The main challenge will be keeping the engine and sophisticated electronic equipment running, Panteleev said.

“It will be difficult to repair them,” he said.

Aeroflot, once one of the world’s top airlines but now dependent on state support, experienced a 22% drop in traffic in the second quarter of this year from a year earlier, according to company data, as the sanctions prevented it from flying to most Western destinations.

It is not possible to secure supplies from countries that have not imposed sanctions on Russia, as companies in Asia and the Middle East are at risk of secondary sanctions being imposed on them by Western governments, the sources said.

“Each part has its own (unique) number and if the documents have a Russian airline as the ultimate buyer, neither China nor Dubai will agree to supply,” said the first source, adding all the parts. Boeing and Airbus will be identified before they are supplied to the end user.

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Reported by Reuters; Editing by Josephine Mason, Matt Scuffham and Jane Merriman

Our Standards: Principles of Thomson Reuters Trust.

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