Russian Airlines Consider Ways To Continue Airworthiness Of Fleets

Ural Airlines A320neo
Credit: Airbus SAS 2019 Philippe Masclet - Master Films

Russian airlines are looking for ways to continue airworthiness of their foreign-made aircraft now that access to European spare parts and MRO services has closed due to the EU sanctions. 

Speaking at the MRO Russia 2022 conference held in Moscow March 10, Igor Poddubny, technical director of Russia’s Ural Airlines, said the carrier had already found other “civilized” sources for spare parts on the global market. “I mean that consumables and spare parts that will be offered to us, [which] meet both the European and Russian airworthiness standards,” he explained.

The EU decided to ban the supplies of aircraft space parts and technical services to the Russian companies starting March 28 in response to the conflict in Ukraine. 

Ural Airlines is Russia’s fifth largest carrier; it operates 54 Airbus A320 family aircraft including a dozen A320neo and A321neo types. The airline has its own maintenance center, certified under EASA, Bermuda and Turkish aviation authorities, in its home airport of Yekaterinburg.

Poddubny recalled that during the first day of the Russian invasion, the airline faced a cyberattack that cut it from the Swiss-AS AMOS aviation maintenance management system. It took five days to restore the access, while the airline continued its maintenance activities using paper-based documentation. The airline has already taken into account all its material, human, document and information resources to keep its aircraft flying despite the current difficulties. “The Ural Airlines’ fleet can fly safely, without grounding or cannibalization, for two to three months,” Poddubny said. 

Vladmir Burtzev, the head of TS Technik, an MRO subsidiary of Russia’s Utair airline, agreed that local carriers had up to four months to settle the problem with spare parts supplies. The Russian Transport Ministry has recently suggested prolonging the validity of current maintenance documentation until September and allowing locally certified MRO providers to maintain foreign-made aircraft without OEM support. 

According to Marat Tereshchenko, deputy head of Russia’s largest MRO provider S7 Technics, this is possible as the Russian operational and maintenance standards had already been harmonized with EASA and BAA requirements. “We have no difference in approach [to maintenance of foreign-made aircraft],” Tereshchenko said.

Russian carriers operate almost 900 Western-made commercial aircraft, most of which are registered in Bermuda and operate in Russia under the Chicago Convention Article 83 bis. The Russian media cited sources saying that the government discussed various options to keep them operating inside the country despite the sanctions. However, the final decision has not been made yet, Burtzev said. The shortage of spare parts is likely to affect Russian-made Superjet regional jets too as the type has many foreign-made subsystems including avionics and engines. 

Almost all local operators are looking to ensure spare part supplies from the third countries, confirmed Ignatiy Vakorin, head of maintenance at another Russian MRO provider SkyTechnics. Vakorin hopes that most of the needed consumables can be produced in Russia while some imported spare parts can be reverse-engineered by the local industry.