Russia’s invasion of Ukraine banned its airlines from European, American and Canadian airspace, left the country with charter planes they couldn’t use, and spoiled the airline industry’s partnerships with the West.
Russian citizens won’t be traveling to Europe or North America any time soon, even flights to friendly countries like China are in doubt due to the country’s aviation sector being ostracized by the international community, according to aviation analysts.
“Russia will be the largest country in the world with a developed economy and aviation industry no better than North Korea,” Richard Aboulafia, managing director of Michigan-based consultancy AeroDynamic, told Al Jazeera.
“Flight sanctions are easy to implement,” said Abul Afia, who has more than 30 years of experience in the aviation industry. “Airlines cannot fly. They will have to completely redesign their aircraft plans, which are currently built on Western technology.”
Eurocontrol reported that 300 flights per day of Russian airlines to Europe and 50 flights per day of European airlines to Russian airports were suspended. Russia responded by imposing reciprocal restrictions on any country that banned its flights.
“The travel of the Russians will gradually become more difficult for two reasons,” Sach Tosa, aerospace and defense analyst at Agency Partners LLP in London, told Al Jazeera. One is that Russian airspace is closed to Western aircraft. In addition, international travel becomes very difficult with the withdrawal of support for Russian-made Western Airlines aircraft.”
Boeing and Airbus, Russia’s main suppliers of commercial aircraft, have denied Russian airlines access to spare parts for their planes. Boeing also closed a design center it operated in Moscow and temporarily closed its office in Kyiv.
It could be weeks or months before airlines run out of spare parts. Airlines can extend their operations by grounding some aircraft and dismantling them for parts for use on aircraft still flying, although such practices are prohibited under the terms of leases that include commercial aircraft.
Like most commercial aircraft today, Russian Airlines planes are largely owned by charter companies in the West. Under European sanctions, leasing companies have until March 28 to terminate their contracts with Russian carriers. Several rental companies, including Ireland-based AerCap Global first player They confirmed that they wrote to their Russian agents asking for their planes to be returned.
Ulick McEvaddy, founder of aircraft leasing company Omega Air, described the task of retrieving hundreds of planes from Russia at such short notice as an “impossible task” due to the potential for legal challenges and a ban on Russian planes flying in European airspace.
The Cape Town agreement designed to prevent an airline from escaping with an aircraft that has not been tested in court since it was signed in 2001. Three out of four passenger and cargo aircraft in Russian service today are from Boeing or Airbus, which supply more than 300 aircraft each. Only 136 Russian-made aircraft are in service with Russian airlines, according to data from aviation analyst Cirium.
What are the odds of getting them back? Abu Al-Afiya said.
How long Russian aviation will remain stagnant will depend not only on how long the war in Ukraine will last, but also on how long it takes for the Russian state to be rehabilitated in the eyes of the West.
Tosa predicts that the rupture in relations between Russia and the West will continue for years, describing it as “more serious than others in the post-war period”.
Abul-Lafia said the war in Ukraine could make customers of Russian-made military aircraft, such as India – the largest buyer of MiGs and Sukhoi fighter jets – think twice before buying more.
Safety concerns are also likely to hinder Russian aviation from moving forward.
Henry Wilkinson, founder of London-based security and intelligence firm Dragonfly, said he’s been receiving a deluge of inquiries from airlines since the war in Ukraine began.
in 2014, Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 was shot down by a Russian-made Buk missile while it was flying over a part of eastern Ukraine controlled by pro-Russian rebels, Killing 283 passengers and 15 crew members on board. The tragedy is likely to be high on the minds of airlines that have been flying in Europe during the crisis.
“The information they need from us depends on the airline,” Wilkinson told Al Jazeera.
“Airlines have disparities in their risk tolerance and also get different levels of information. US airlines are clearly well supported by the FAA, but airlines in other countries don’t get much information from their local government agencies. Airlines are trying Currently finding safe and efficient corridors connecting Europe and Asia.”
Airlines generally give a wide berth to Russian and Ukrainian airspace. Flights from Europe to Asia that normally passed over Ukraine and Russia were diverted south into the skies over Turkey, Iran and Afghanistan.
Eurocontrol, the agency that directs air traffic policy in the European Union, has reported major disruptions to major routes. Flights between Frankfurt and Beijing are now two hours longer than before, with flights between Helsinki and Tokyo taking up to five more hours.
Stephen Furlong, chief equity analyst at Davy Capital Markets in Dublin, Ireland, said European airlines had so far not been overly affected by the turmoil.
“Before the Ukraine crisis, Lufthansa had only about 2% of its flights to Russia and less than 1% to China and Japan,” Furlong told Al Jazeera, explaining that European airlines had not yet added many of the flights to Asia that were canceled during the pandemic.
Cooperation between the West and Russia in space is also set to suffer.
“There are hundreds of millions of dollars of Ukrainian, American and European space operations that have been halted by the war or completely destroyed so far,” Craig Covault, a former correspondent for Aviation Week and Space Technology, told Al Jazeera.
These projects include critical operations related to the resupply of the International Space Station, the launch of a OneWeb satellite internet service intended to compete with Elon Musk’s Starlink program, and the European ExoMars Mars spacecraft being built by British Aerospace.
“All of these projects have been at least a decade in the making and involve thousands of Ukrainian and European engineers,” Covault said.
Affected Ukrainian projects include the Antares booster rocket that launches the Northrop Grumman Cygnus space station to resupply the spacecraft from Wallops Island in Virginia. It lifts about half of the required supplies from the space station, while Elon Musk’s Space X transports the rest.
Meanwhile, the Russian space agency said it will not service the RD-180 rocket engines used by the United Launch Alliance, the Boeing-Lockheed joint venture. These reinforcements are used to lift top-secret US national defense payloads into space for the Pentagon.
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