Sanctions impact: Russia’s largest private air carrier cuts its fleet

S7 Airlines, Russia’s largest privately owned airline, announced on July 1 its intention to retire its fleet of Airbus A320neo, said the head of the Federal Air Transport Agency, Dmitry Yadrov. The Western economic sanctions imposed on Russia significantly restricted its capacity to provide maintenance and repair for these aircraft, prompting this decision.

The A320neo family of aircraft, which first entered service in 2016, became part of the S7 fleet in 2017. However, the airline is now facing serious issues due to the inability to repair the PW1100G engines of the American company Pratt & Whitney installed on these airliners. Only three service centers provide maintenance—one in Canada and two in the US. 

Sanctions closed Russia’s access to spare parts for A320neo aircraft

The service market for these engines is limited because neither Americans nor Canadians have the same technological know-how and equipment. Sanctions imposed on Russia closed access to necessary spare parts and maintenance, rendering aircraft operation impossible.

S7 currently operates a fleet of 31 Airbus A320neo and 8 A321neo aircraft. The latter are already inactive on the ground due to sanctions restrictions.

Sanctions imposed on the Russian aviation sector pose a threat to both current operations and future fleet renewal plans. With limited access to Western technology and spare parts, Russian airlines are forced to seek other options, which could mean switching to planes made in Russia or from other nations that don’t support sanctions.

Airline S7 has already decommissioned the Airbus A320neo during the winter schedule, just to preserve the resource of engines to carry out flights during peak hours, that is, during the summer schedule. In the spring, the machines returned to service.

The biggest concern is that these engines may be obsolete by autumn. It is quite costly to mothball an airliner. For this reason, S7 is exploring ways to dispose of these aircraft after obtaining special permission from Rosaviatsia to decommission them and potentially resell them abroad.

Sanctions on Russia’s aviation industry

As previously mentioned in our research on issues in Russia’s civil aviation, based on leaked internal documents from the Federal Air Transport Agency’s Ural Interregional Territorial Directorate, the problems in the sector have been constantly worsening since the implementation of Western sanctions in response to Putin’s war in Ukraine.

On February 24, 2022, the international community imposed large-scale sanctions on Russia’s aviation industry, effectively closing the airspace over multiple nations to Russian planes after Putin started a war against Ukraine and invaded the neighboring country.

Lessors from Ireland and Bermuda primarily demanded the return of all aircraft to their respective owners. Their respective owners also revoked the flying safety certificates of these planes.

The Swiss SITA system, which serves approximately 90% of the civil aviation sector and facilitates information sharing between airlines and airports, disqualified Russia in the fall of 2023.

As a result, there were breakdowns, emergency landings, and rollouts beyond the runways. The first nine months of 2023 saw 123 aviation incidents.

Due to faults, as many as five planes made emergency landings in just two days in early December 2023.

The aviation industry has resorted to a practice known as “aviation cannibalism,” where they dismantle aircraft to repair others due to the acute shortage of spare parts. Data available by mid-2023 revealed that the Russian Federation had “donated” more than 35% of its aircraft for spare parts.

However, not only sanctions led to aviation incidents in Russia. The reasons may also be specialist incompetence, management negligence, a lack of necessary spare parts, and Russia’s basic deviation from the schedules and standards for repairing foreign-made aircraft.

This development shows that sanctions against Moscow for its war in Ukraine are effective and harm Russia’s economy. Still, Western governments need to ensure sanctions enforcement and closely monitor any attempts to circumvent these restrictions via third nations and sham companies.

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