Exclusive: Russia begins stripping airliners for parts as sanctions bite


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

The steps are in accordance with advice provided by the Russian government in June for airlines to use some planes for parts to ensure that the rest of the planes built overseas can continue to fly until at least 2025.

Sanctions imposed on Russia after it sent its troops to Ukraine in late February have prevented its airlines from obtaining spare parts or undergoing maintenance in the West.

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Aviation experts have said Russian airlines are likely to start removing parts from their planes to keep them airworthy, but these are just the first detailed examples.

At least one Russian-made Sukhoi Superjet 100 and one Airbus A350, both operated by Aeroflot, are currently grounded and being dismantled, 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.

The bulk of Russia’s aircraft fleet consists of Western passenger aircraft.

Equipment was taken from a few Aeroflot Boeing 737s and Airbus A320s as the carrier needs more spares of 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.

‘A QUESTION OF TIME’

Sukhoi Superjets assembled in Russia also rely heavily on foreign parts. An engine has already been removed from a Superjet to allow another Superjet to continue flying, the first source said.

True, engines are frequently swapped between planes and are usually supplied under separate contracts, industry experts said. They are not considered part of the main cell.

It’s “only a matter of time” before Russian-based planes are cannibalized, a Western aviation industry source said.

The new generations of jet aircraft – A320neo, A350 and Boeing 737 MAX and 787 – have technology that must be constantly updated.

In the year after the sanctions take effect, it will be a ‘challenge’ to keep modern jets in service, even for Russia’s highly developed and capable engineering base, Western sources said. . Read more

The practice of removing parts to fly another plane is commonly referred to as turning decommissioned planes into “Christmas trees”. Although relatively rare, it is most often linked to financial difficulties and has never been on the scale of the vast reshuffle announced in Russia to deal with the impact of sanctions.

Airliners could be made operational provided removed parts were returned, but that would not necessarily restore the traceability needed for planes to re-enter global markets.

Many parts have a limited life which must be recorded.

Nearly 80% of Aeroflot’s fleet consists of Boeing (BA.N) and Airbus (AIR.PA) – it has 134 Boeings and 146 Airbuses, as well as nearly 80 Russian-made Sukhoi Superjet-100 aircraft at the end of last year, based on the latest data available.

According to Reuters calculations based on data from Flightradar24, some 50 Aeroflot planes – or 15% of its fleet, including jets blocked by sanctions – have not taken off since late July.

Three of the seven Airbus A350s operated by Aeroflot, including one currently used for parts, have not taken off for about three months, according to data from Flightradar24.

Russian carriers flying fewer routes due to Western sanctions means there are unused jets on the ground that can be stripped, a second industry source said.

“Western manufacturers understand that almost all Superjets are operated in Russia,” said Oleg Panteleev, head of aviation think tank Aviaport. “You can just stop producing and shipping spare parts – and it will hurt.”

DISMANTLING

The development plan of the Russian aviation industry until 2030 estimates that Russia could face the greatest challenges with the A350 and Bombardier Q series, since their maintenance is carried out abroad.

The Russian government’s opinion envisages a “partial dismantling of parts of the air fleet”, which would keep two-thirds of the foreign fleet operational by the end of 2025.

The main challenge will be keeping the engines and sophisticated electronic equipment in good working order, Panteleev said.

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

Aeroflot, once among the best airlines in the world but now dependent on state support, saw a 22% drop in traffic in the second quarter of this year compared to a year ago, according to data from the company, after sanctions prevented it from flying to most Western destinations.

Securing supplies from countries that have not imposed sanctions on Russia is unlikely to help, as companies in Asia and the Middle East fear a risk of secondary sanctions against them by Western governments. , the sources said.

“Each part has its own (unique) number and if the documents have a Russian airline as the end buyer, then no one would agree to supply, neither China nor Dubai,” the first source said, adding that all parts must be made known to Boeing and Airbus before they are provided to the end user.

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

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