Russia’s ‘mind-boggling’ decision – battered by sanctions, Moscow turns to Iran for help on plane repairs and maintenance

Several Russian airlines operating the Sukhoi Superjet 100 (SSJ 100) are warning that they may soon have to ground the planes due to Western sanctions that have halted the supply and repair of engines for these planes, according to a report by Russian media RBC.

Director General of IrAero, an airline based in Irkutsk in Russia, Igor Kobzev warned the regional authorities in his letter on April 5, due to US and European sanctions, airlines operating the domestic Sukhoi Superjet 100 aircraft may not continue to fly them for long due to lack of repair and maintenance of their SaM146 engines.

The management of three other Russian airlines flying the Superjet have expressed similar concerns to RBC, with one saying that if engine technical support does not improve, his airline may be forced to shut down operations. by fall 2022.

Currently, the Sukhoi Superjet 100 is the only Russian commercial aircraft in production. The Superjet is the result of a collaboration between designers from “more than 20 global aviation industry leaders”, according to the website of United Aircraft Corporation (UAC), which is part of Rostec, a defense conglomerate owned by the state.

File Image: Biden and Putin

Sanctions impact engine repair and maintenance

The SaM146 turbofan that powers the Superjet is product by PowerJet, a joint venture between the Russian engine manufacturer UEC Saturn and the French engine manufacturer Safran. This appears to be the only engine option currently for the SSJ-100s.

In the joint venture, UEC Saturn is responsible for the manufacturing process of the engine’s fan and low-pressure turbine as well as general assembly and installation on the SSJ100. While the French company is responsible for producing the engine’s high-pressure compressor, combustion chamber and high-pressure turbine.

Russian media reported on March 30 that PowerJet had informed its Russian-based partners of the end of its engine maintenance and repair services following international sanctions against Russia following the invasion of Ukraine.

A SaM146 turbojet engine (Wikimedia Commons)

The suspension of contracts prohibits the shipment of any product to Russian companies, even engines that are being repaired in Russia, and as a result, UEC Saturn has also refused to accept Superjet engines for repairs.

IrAero, which has seven such aircraft in its fleet, is already short of four engines. The Irkutsk airline cannot even receive paid spare parts that are in the UEC-Saturn warehouse, because they belong to PowerJet, Lapin pointed out in his letter.

Additionally, at least two other Russian airlines cannot recover the engines after repairs in France, their officials told RBC.

“This situation has developed because of the sanctions, nobody wants to take decisions that go against them,” a source close to the UAC told RBC.

The source close to UAC further stated that Superjet will most likely stop flying not because of engine technical support issues, but “due to the lack of such mundane things as wheels and brakes, various sensors and valves” and underlined the urgency of locating the production and repair of components which, if not carried out by the end of 2022, half of the Superjet fleet could have to be “chained to the ground”.

While officially, Rostec, the parent company of UAC refuted the RBC report.

“We are surprised by IrAero’s statements. As far as we know, the airline has no problems with its flight fleet. All Superjet companies are now in service, aircraft engines are available, there is no objective reason to fuss, ”said Rostec’s press service after the RBC material was published.

File:Sukhoi Superjet 100 (5096752902) (cropped).jpg - Wikimedia Commons
Sukhoi Superjet 100

Dependence on foreign aircraft

As of mid-2021, there were only 155 SSJ-100s in service, according to UAC CEO Yury Slyusar. The demand was largely driven by government pressure on Russian airlines to buy them, industry analysts said.

Western-made aircraft, including Boeing and Airbus, accounted for approximately 80 percent of the Russian fleet earlier this year, according to Cirium, an aeronautical data and analytics firm. Following the imposition of sanctions, foreign leasing companies demanded that these planes be returned to them.

As of March 22, carriers such as Pobeda, S7 and Nordwind have lost 78 foreign planes – around 10% of all foreign planes in Russia – to arrests abroad at the request of, the head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said. Transport.

Therefore, Russian airlines such as Aeroflot have stopped their international operations, making it difficult for non-Russian lessors to recover their more than 500 aircraft worth around $10 billion.

Additionally, Russia has approved a rule that allows Russian-based airlines to re-register their Western-built planes leased from foreign lessors so they can be used on domestic routes.

Help from Iran

Moscow has also turned to Iran for advice which has a lot of experience with the United States and other international sanctions which have prevented the country from receiving spare parts or new planes from international manufacturers during many years, regardless of which airlines in the country managed to keep flying. .

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (R) speaks with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Tehran, September 7, 2018. (Office of the Supreme Leader)

Speaking on March 22 at a meeting of the economic policy committee in the upper house of the Russian parliament, Transport Minister Vitaly Savelyev mentioned “Russia was guided by Iran’s experience on how to maintain aircraft in a similar situation.”

Iranian Airlines, unable to buy new planes or spare parts, grounded and cannibalized half of its planes in spare parts to keep more in the air.

Meanwhile, the Russian Ministry of Industry and Trade is working on import substitution for the Superjet, which would involve fitting the plane with a locally produced PD-8 engine and replacing 27 other engine systems. imported aircraft.

At the beginning of March, Denis Manturov, head of the Ministry of Industry and Trade, announced the acceleration of work on the creation of a fully localized version of the Superjet aimed at a production capacity of up to 40 aircraft of this type per year.

The Superjet’s first flight with Russian engines is scheduled for the first quarter of 2023, UAC CEO Yuri Slyusar said in an interview with the Russia 24 TV channel in early April. Serial production of these Superjet aircraft will begin in 2024.

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