Russian Authorities Try To Keep Commercial Fleet Amid Sanctions

Credit: Veniamin Kraskov / Alamy Stock Photo

Russian authorities are taking urgent measures to retain air connectivity at least within the country in the face of mounting EU sanctions. 

On March 5, federal air transport agency Rosaviatsiya recommended that local carriers with aircraft leased from foreign lessors and registered abroad suspend all international passenger and cargo services. The ban for outbound flights took effect on March 6 while return flights are to be stopped from March 8. The agency said it took the decision because of the high risk of leased aircraft now being seized while outside the country at foreign airports.

According to Rosaviatsiya data, Russian carriers operate almost 900 Western-made aircraft including airliners with more than 19 passenger seats and freighters. Less than a hundred of these aircraft are registered in Russia with the rest registered abroad, mostly in Bermuda. Most of the Russian commercial fleet is leased from international lessors that are required to withdraw their assets from Russia by March 28. Several Russian carriers, like Pobeda and Ural Airlines, have already had their aircraft repossessed at foreign airports at the request of lessors.

On the same day, Russia’s largest airlines—including Aeroflot and low-cost subsidiary Pobeda, Ural Airlines, and charter carriers Azur Air and Nordwind—responded to the order by cutting their international operations from March 8. S7 and Smartavia had announced similar measures ahead of Rosaviatsiya’s recommendation.

Aeroflot continues to fly to Belarus, Moscow’s ally in the conflict with Ukraine. Regional airline Red Wings announced it would continue services to Armenia and Uzbekistan on Russian-made Sukhoi Superjet 100 (SSJ100) regional jets which are owned by Russian lessors. Similarly, all-SSJ100 operator Azimuth still flies to Armenia, Azerbaijan and Turkey. Azur Air plans to use only Russian-registered Boeing 767 and 757 aircraft for international flight after March 8. Utair can keep international service too as it owns about 40% of its fleet including 18 737-500s and six 737-400s, and has already moved three of those aircraft to the Russian register.

The authorities are discussing other measures to reduce the effect of sanctions and avoid disruption to domestic air services. 

The Russian transport ministry published a draft government decree on March 5 which allows for automatically prolonging the expired airworthiness certificates for foreign-made aircraft registered in Russia for another six months—until Sept. 1, 2022. The same measure is suggested for aircraft from foreign registers which are operated in Russia under the Chicago Convention Article 83 bis. The crews are to be allowed to operate these aircraft with the document issued by Russian authorities without approval by the country where the aircraft are registered.

Russian airlines will also be permitted to use operation and maintenance manuals for foreign-made aircraft without the support and updates from the OEMs. The draft decree is open for public consideration until March 28.

During a televised meeting with the cabin crews of Russian airlines on March 5, President Vladimir Putin expressed hope that transport minister Vitaly Savelyev would reach an agreement with the foreign lessors. “I assume that we will [continue] flying,” Putin said.