Russia starts stripping aircraft for parts as sanctions bite

Aeroflot Russia Jetliner Sanctions Aviation Ukraine - Maxim Shemetov/Reuters
Aeroflot Russia Jetliner Sanctions Aviation Ukraine - Maxim Shemetov/Reuters

Russian airlines are dismantling Western-made aeroplanes for spare parts as sanctions over the invasion of Ukraine cripple its aviation industry.

At least one Russian-made Sukhoi Superjet 100 and an Airbus A350, both operated by Aeroflot, are currently grounded and being stripped for spares, one source familiar with the matter told Reuters.

Equipment was also said to be being removed from two Boeing 737s, as well as Aeroflot’s Airbus A320 fleet. The carrier needs more spare parts from those specific aeroplane types, the Reuters source said.

Global sanctions imposed on Russia after its invasion of Ukraine in February have prevented local airlines from obtaining spare parts or booking maintenance in the West.

Last week it emerged that Russian pilots were being told to brake less after landing as a shortage of spare parts began to bite, highlighting the effectiveness of Western sanctions.

Aviation experts predicted earlier this year that Russian airlines would have to cannibalise aircraft to keep flying.

Nearly 80pc of Aeroflot's fleet consists of Western-made Boeings and Airbuses. Reuters cited industry figures, showing it has 134 Boeings and 146 Airbuses at its disposal, along with nearly 80 Russian-made Sukhoi Superjets.

One Russian-made Sukhoi Superjet airliner has reportedly also been grounded after having an engine removed to keep another aircraft flying.

Aeroflot did not respond to a request for comment.

Component parts on airliners have a set “life”, meaning they must be replaced after a certain number of flying hours or number of takeoff and landing cycles. Without replacement, the aircraft they’re fitted to cannot safely or legally fly outside Russia.

Removing parts to keep another aircraft flying is commonly known as turning the disused machines into “hangar queens”. It is unusual among airlines, as it usually leads to loss of revenue and is most often linked to financial difficulties.

Earlier this year, Russian airlines faced sustained criticism after refusing to return leased aeroplanes to their Western owners, leaving the former facing accusations of “stealing” 150 multi-million pound airframes.

Phil Seymour, president of aviation consultancy IBA, told the Telegraph in April that the aircraft had effectively been “stolen by the Russian Federation”.

He added: “By putting these aircraft on the Russian register, it means that the Russians have taken control of these aircraft."

Dublin-headquartered Avolon has written off ten planes expropriated by Russian operators, resulting in a $304m loss. Around £8bn in leased airliners have been “stolen” by the Russians.

Russia unilaterally suspended the 2001 Cape Town Treaty in March. The international treaty eases the way for leasing companies to recover aircraft from lessors who fail to comply with their contractual obligations.

UK and EU sanctions on Russia in March resulted in most continental and transatlantic airspace being closed to Russian-controlled aeroplanes, resulting in an estimated 22pc drop in traffic for Aeroflot in the first part of this year.