EXCLUSIVE: Russia Begins Dismantling Passenger Planes For Parts As They Tighten Sanctions

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MOSCOW, Aug 8 (Reuters) – Russian airlines, including state-owned Aeroflot (AFLT.MM)they are dismantling passenger planes to secure spare parts they can no longer buy abroad due to Western sanctions, four industry sources told Reuters.

The steps are in line with advice the Russian government provided in June that airlines use some planes as parts to ensure that the rest of the foreign-built planes can continue to fly until at least 2025.

Sanctions imposed on Russia after it sent its troops to Ukraine in late February have prevented its airlines from getting parts or undergoing maintenance in the West.

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Aviation experts have said Russian airlines are likely to start taking parts from their planes to keep them airworthy, but these are the first detailed examples.

At least one Russian-made Sukhoi Superjet 100 and one Airbus A350, both operated by Aeroflot, are currently grounded and being disassembled, a source familiar with the matter said.

The source declined to be identified due to the sensitivity of the topic.

The Airbus A350 is almost new, the source said.

Most of Russia’s aircraft fleet consists of Western airliners.

Equipment was being taken from a pair of Aeroflot’s Boeing 737s and Airbus A320s as the airline needs more parts from those models for its other Boeing 737s and Airbus A320s, the source said.

The Russian Transport Ministry and Aeroflot did not respond to requests for comment.

‘MATTER OF TIME’

Russian-assembled Sukhoi Superjets also rely heavily on foreign parts. An engine has already been removed from one Superjet to allow another Superjet to continue flying, the first source said.

To be sure, engines are frequently swapped between aircraft and are usually supplied under separate contracts, industry experts said. They are not considered part of the center fuselage.

It is “only a matter of time” before Russian-based planes are cannibalized, a Western aviation industry source said.

The new generations of aircraft (A320neo, A350 and Boeing 737 MAX and 787) have technology that must be constantly updated.

Within a year of the sanctions taking effect, it will be a “challenge” to keep modern aircraft in service even for Russia’s highly developed and competent engineering base, Western sources said. read more

The practice of removing parts to keep another aircraft in flight is commonly known as turning disused aircraft into “Christmas trees”. Although relatively rare, it is most often linked to financial difficulties and has never occurred on the same scale as the widespread reshuffling that is forecast in Russia to address the impact of sanctions.

Passenger planes can become operational again as long as the removed parts are replaced, although this would not necessarily reconstitute the necessary traceability for the planes to re-enter global markets.

Many parts have a limited life that must be recorded.

Almost 80% of Aeroflot’s fleet consists of Boeings (PROHIBITION) and airplanes (AIR.PA) – has 134 Boeings and 146 Airbuses, along with nearly 80 Russian-made Sukhoi Superjet-100 planes at the end of last year, according to the latest available data.

According to Reuters calculations based on data from Flightradar24, some 50 Aeroflot planes – or 15% of its fleet, including jets stranded by sanctions – have not taken off since the end of July.

Three of the seven Airbus A350s operated by Aeroflot, including one now used for parts, did not take off for about three months, data from Flightradar24 shows.

Russian airlines flying fewer routes due to Western sanctions means there are unused planes on the ground that may be dismantled, a second industry source said.

“Western manufacturers understand that almost all Superjets are being operated in Russia,” said Oleg Panteleev, director of aviation think tank Aviaport. “You can just stop producing and shipping replacement parts, and it will hurt.”

DISMANTLING

The Russian aviation industry development plan to 2030 estimated that Russia could face the greatest challenges with Bombardier’s A350 and Q-series, as maintenance is carried out abroad.

The Russian government’s advice foresees the “partial dismantling of certain parts of the aircraft fleet”, which would keep two-thirds of the foreign fleet operational by the end of 2025.

The main challenge will be keeping engines and sophisticated electronic equipment in good working order, Panteleev said.

“It will be difficult to repair them,” he said.

Aeroflot, once among the world’s leading airlines but now reliant on state support, saw a 22% drop in traffic in the second quarter of this year from a year earlier, company data showed, after it sanctions prevented him from flying to most Western destinations.

Securing supplies from countries that have not imposed sanctions on Russia is unlikely to help, as companies in Asia and the Middle East fear the risk of secondary sanctions against them by Western governments, the sources said.

“Each individual part has its own (unique) number and if the documents have a Russian airline as the final buyer, then no one would agree to supply, neither China nor Dubai,” the first source said, adding that all parts have to be given to meet Boeing and Airbus before they are supplied to the end user.

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Information from Reuters; Edited by Josephine Mason, Matt Scuffham and Jane Merriman

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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