IATA Appears To Have No Plans to Expel Russian Airlines

 - March 9, 2022, 12:07 PM

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) appears to have no immediate plans to expel 11 Russian member airlines and Belarusian carrier Belavia, despite mounting global pressure to isolate Russia and its ally for the invasion of Ukraine. A spokesperson for the industry body this week stated that any such decision would have to first consider multiple practical challenges, and would, in any case, have to be made by its board of governors or at the annual general meeting scheduled for June in Shanghai.

IATA’s 290 member carriers in 120 countries currently include the following airlines from Russia and Belarus: Aeroflot, Rossiya, AirBridge Cargo Airlines, Belavia, RusLine, NordStar, Smartavia Airlines, Ural Airlines, Pegas Fly, NordWind, UTAir Aviation, and S7 Airlines. Mikhail Poluboyarinov, CEO and chairman of Aeroflot, which is one of several Russian carriers specifically targeted by Western sanctions, sits on the IATA board of directors and so would have a vote in any action to expel members.

“We are appalled by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and sympathize greatly with the human suffering that has resulted,” the IATA spokesperson told AIN. “Any discussion or decision on membership of Russian carriers in IATA, however, would have to consider the impact on IATA operations in Russia and the negative consequences for consumers worldwide.”

One example of those issues relates to the fact that IATA, whose members account for 83 percent of worldwide air traffic, is now processing refunds for canceled travel to and from Russia that were made through its transaction settlement systems. “As there are 140 airlines participating in IATA’s Russian BSP [Billing and Settlement Plan] and thousands of travel agents worldwide, consumers around the world are counting on the efficient processing of their refunds,” the spokesperson explained.

IATA’s articles of association provide for the suspension or termination of airlines’ membership for factors such as failure to pay dues or bankruptcy. Russian carriers might struggle to pay their dues in the wake of severe restrictions on the Swift international bank transfer system, and the risk of bankruptcy cannot be discounted in view of factors such as aircraft lease payments they need to maintain.

Article V of the IATA’s founding policies also make provision for the board to terminate membership “if a member has committed any act or omission which is prejudicial to the mission and aims of IATA, or if a member has been placed under limitation for at least one year.” The articles say that an airline can lose its membership following a vote of two-thirds of IATA’s members at a general meeting.

One key requirement for IATA membership centers on a requirement to maintain an IATA Operational Safety Audit (IOSA) registration. All of the above Russian member airlines, as well as several non-members, now have “provisional” status, which indicates that IATA has begun examining their operational circumstances. The IOSA registration for Ukraine International Airlines is also now logged as provisional until further notice.

The change in IOSA status would appear to relate to the disruption caused by factors such as sanctions banning the importation of aircraft parts and exclusion from international airspace. Airlines are obligated to report significant changes to IATA, which then must reassess whether they can maintain IOSA standards.

IATA’s insistence on putting pragmatic considerations ahead of taking a principled stance against Russian aggression appears to follow a pattern. Last week, the organization said it does not support the ban on aircraft parts shipments to Russian airlines on the grounds that those measures could undermine air safety.

Similarly, in June 2021, IATA opposed an EASA directive banning Belarusian airlines from using European airspace in response to an incident in which a Ryanair flight from Greece to Lithuania was forced by Belarus fighter jets to divert to the capital Minsk, where two political opponents of the government on board were arrested. IATA director general Willie Walsh argued against what he characterized as the politicization of air safety.