Russian Carriers Struggle with Spare Parts Shortage

Putin on a plane
Photo: AP

Moscow, November 10, 2023: Russian domestic airlines are facing an unprecedented challenge as economic sanctions have created significant hurdles in acquiring imported spare parts and up-to-date software. Faced with this predicament, these carriers are now resorting to a drastic measure – cannibalizing existing planes – in a desperate attempt to extend the lifespan of their aging fleets.

Sergei Krupnov, the deputy general director of IrAero airlines, highlighted the industry’s inability to keep up with the soaring demand for repairing aging aircraft. This struggle is compounded by the fact that many Russian airlines heavily rely on foreign-made components, which have become increasingly difficult to obtain due to the sanctions.

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A representative from Angara Airlines, Sergei Zorin, has urged aviation regulators to consider extending the service life of the country’s aging Soviet-made Antonov aircraft. On average, these aircraft are about 50 years old, and current regulations stipulate that a quarter of them will be grounded in approximately five years. Zorin specifically emphasized the need to “prolong the operation of An-24 and An-26” aircraft, which constitute more than half of the 150 Russian-made planes operating regional flights.

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During a recent meeting with officials, Zorin also underscored the importance of supporting domestic aircraft production to mitigate the reliance on foreign suppliers. The sanctions have not only disrupted the maintenance of existing aircraft but have also raised concerns about the safety of passenger flights. Even before the full-scale invasion of Ukraine and the subsequent sanctions, Russia’s aviation industry had been grappling with documented safety issues.

In August, a Red Wings flight experienced a 24-hour delay in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg due to simultaneous “technical malfunctions” on the only two available aircraft. The airline attributed the issues to “external sanctions” and “restrictions on the supply of spare parts, which complicates aircraft maintenance.” Similarly, a Pegas Fly plane faced delays in Thailand in the same month due to faults with its weather monitoring system.

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October brought further challenges when the state airline Aeroflot encountered three technical failures across its planes in a single day. These incidents have heightened concerns about the safety and reliability of Russian airlines, prompting a reevaluation of the industry’s resilience in the face of ongoing geopolitical tensions.

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Adding to the woes of the Russian airline industry, China has quietly dropped Russian firms from its collaborative project to build a new intercontinental widebody airliner – the CR929. The project, initially aimed at competing with intercontinental aircraft manufactured by Boeing and Airbus, has faced repeated setbacks on the Russian side due to aerospace industry sanctions following the invasion of Ukraine.

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Initially, Moscow had hoped to collaborate with China, using Russia’s United Aircraft Corporation as the lead in the CR929 project. However, the exclusion of Russian partners from the project marks a significant blow to Russia’s aspirations to assert itself in the global aviation market. The CR929 airliner, designed to accommodate 250 to 350 seats with a range of 12,000 km, is now facing uncertainties as geopolitical tensions continue to reshape international collaborations in the aviation sector.

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