Neither spare parts nor maintenance, a blow for Russian aviation

No more spare parts or maintenance services for aircraft: the suspension of Boeing and Airbus activities in Russia is a massive blow for Russian airlines, whose flight safety will ultimately be at stake.

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European, Canadian and American airspaces closed to Russian planes, European sanctions and bridges cut by the two main aircraft manufacturers: the invasion of Ukraine by Russia risks costing Russian commercial aviation dearly, experts point out.

The Seattle giant announced overnight from Tuesday to Wednesday that it was suspending “spare parts, maintenance and technical assistance services for Russian airlines” as well as its “major operations” in Moscow.

For its part, “in accordance with the international sanctions in force, Airbus has suspended assistance services to Russian airlines as well as the supply of spare parts in the country”, indicates the European aircraft manufacturer.

Aircraft from both manufacturers make up the vast majority of Russia’s commercial aviation fleet. Out of a thousand aircraft in service in Russia, nearly 370 are Boeing, 340 Airbus.

And Russia risks seeing some of these planes withdraw: three quarters of them belong not to companies, but to lessors, according to the database of the specialized publication Aviation Week. If a quarter of these renters are Russian, nearly half are European.

The scope of the sanctions “allows all planes owned by EU owners to enter the European Union”, said a European official, saying he was in this regard “in contact with several leasing companies in Ireland”, where many of them are located.

With regard to maintenance, “the immediate impact is low, but heavy in the medium term”, estimates Bernard Vilmer, aeronautical expert at the Icare cabinet.

Each aircraft part has traceability, a system intended to guarantee the international certification of the aircraft. “It is this drastic protocol that has made it possible to achieve extremely low accident rates,” he explains to AFP.

“As soon as we leave the normal supply and maintenance traceability channels, we become suspect and we enter a downward spiral that will lead to accidents. This is exactly what happened in Iran,” he said.

Embargoed, Iran first “cannibalized” aircraft to recover spare parts and then saw the number of air accidents increase.

Everything will depend on the latitude that will be given to companies by the Russian air regulator.

As of Wednesday, the Russian transport policeman announced a cessation of routine checks. “In order to ensure the proper functioning of transport and to avoid an additional burden for operators, routine checks of Rostransnadzor concerning the organizations operating aircraft of the companies Airbus and Boeing are cancelled, he indicated, quoted by the Tass news agency.

Russia, which spans eleven time zones, is very dependent on air links to serve its huge territory.

“States are free to impose their own criteria” of airworthiness, such as extending the number of flight hours between two compulsory visits to the workshop, recalls this expert.

“There are safety margins and tolerances put in place by manufacturers and certifiers,” agrees Mr. Vilmer.

But the long-term risk for Russian planes is, according to him, to appear on blacklists and to be banned from the skies of neighboring countries for safety reasons, failing to respect the rules of the manufacturers or the certifying authorities of Airbus and Boeing, the ‘EASA in Europe, the FAA in the United States.

In addition to “cannibalization”, companies may also be tempted to recover parts “through the band”, notes the air safety expert, according to whom “there is a parallel market” of counterfeits or diverted parts.

Unscrupulous companies from other countries could thus be tempted to buy more spare parts than necessary and then resell them.

“But it can only last a while”, the traceability of the parts making that the manufacturer will notice it, according to Mr. Vilmer, for whom “trade between Russia and the rest of the world will be permanently affected by these measures of sanctions.

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