Jets are extremely complicated machines, and without constant maintenance and spare parts, they can quickly become inoperable and dangerous. Since March, Boeing and Airbus have been unable or unwilling to supply Russia with parts for their planes and the results could be disastrous.
Russia is increasingly turning to cannibalizing planes for parts, using third-party parts or hiring previously unauthorized service companies to keep its jet-powered Boeings and Airbuses in the air. All of these practices come with an unknown degree of risk to the aircraft. There is also a risk for the documents that detail all the maintenance performed on each aircraft. Without these detailed records using sanctioned parts and practices, hundreds of planes illegally seized by Russia could be rendered worthless, a $10 billion loss. The crunch of parts is already lifting some planes out of the sky; in May, Russia had a fleet of 876 jets compared to 968 in February.
The experts said Wired the first things to wear out in an airplane are, as you might expect, the tires and the brakes, but that’s not all that can break:
Worn tires would only be the first sign of deterioration. Aircraft are powered by computer systems that require regular maintenance, with some systems programmed to shut down after a certain number of flight cycles or calendar days and reset. This includes aircraft engines and auxiliary power units, the electrical generator that pumps compressed air through the cabin in flight and powers the engine trigger when the aircraft is first turned on. “Some of these parts have a limited lifespan,” says Kingsley Jones. “They literally have to be taken off the plane and replaced when they reach a certain age or a certain number of flights.” Despite the stereotype of crashing old dilapidated planes, Russia’s aircraft fleet compares favorably to that of much of the rest of the world. The average age of a The Russian plane is 10.5 years old, according to the Association of Tour Operators of Russia. The average age of the airliner in the world is 10.3 yearsaccording to management consultancy Oliver Wyman.
“Make no mistake about Russia’s aeronautical engineering capabilities,” says Kingsley Jones. “They are a very capable nation; they have their own aircraft manufacturing industry and are quite capable of maintaining the aircraft they manufacture. But as Russian airlines reduce their supply of official spare parts, they will be forced to adopt alternative measures. In April and May, the Russian authorities expanded the pool of companies which can serve aircraft operating in the country beyond international standards. “I don’t think these planes are all death traps,” says Kingsley Jones. “It’s more that there’s an unknown quantity about all of this.” Third-party parts, produced by Russian manufacturers, may well be used to replace broken parts. This is something that happens in the rest of the world but is frowned upon by the aircraft leasing companies that supply most aircraft to carriers. (Russia said so plans to build a parts manufacturing plant in Kazan by 2023 to fill the supply gap.) “If the situation is not really resolved in the next two or three months, Russian planes could be totally grounded or forced to fly with parts not approved or not approved”, says Vasigh.
International flights are down in Russia. Russian jets are leased to European countries who will not hesitate to seize jets from the airlines of the pariah country. China recently banned such planes from flying in its airspace, according to Fly with ease, further narrowing where these planes can travel in the world. Domestic flights continue with 30 more flights within Russian borders than two years ago.