Bogus Parts Could Indefinitely Ostracize Russian Air Transport

 - June 9, 2022, 6:57 AM
The Sukhoi SSJ100 contains many components made by Western suppliers now prohibited from exporting parts to Russia. United Aircraft Corporation continues development of a "Russianized" SSJ using locally made components to counter the effects of the sanctions.

An influx of unapproved aircraft parts fitted to Western airliners in Russia seems set to further destabilize relations with the global air transport industry. Earlier this week, Kremlin-backed news agencies confirmed that the country's aviation safety regulator Rosaviatsiya has issued certificates to five Russian aerospace groups to develop parts for imported aircraft, including widely used Airbus and Boeing models.

According to independent data and analytics group GlobalData, Rosaviatsiya also has waived requirements for Russian airlines and their maintenance organizations to only use parts certified by FAA and EASA. Analyst Harry Boneham said the unilateral measures will further “poison the well” for relations between the Russian industry and foreign finance groups and suppliers, and seriously undermine the asset values of any aircraft fitted with unapproved hardware.

“The installation of Russian improvised parts will likely compromise the airworthiness of modified aircraft in the eyes of Western regulators,” said GlobalData in a report issued this week. “Furthermore, Western parts manufacturers may take legal action against their Russian counterparts due to copyright infringement, which could delay or deter regulators from certifying Russian-made parts. As a result, Russia’s extensive Western-made fleet is unlikely to be certified in Europe and the U.S. in the medium term. Even if the war abates and the sanctions are removed, Russians will be kept in a form of de facto isolation due to a lack of certified aircraft.”

Airbus and Boeing aircraft account for almost three-quarters of Russia’s airliner fleet, with equipment such as the Superjet SJ100 made by government-controlled domestic manufacturer United Aircraft Company (UAC) supplying almost all the other aircraft. Boneham told AIN that UAC is urgently redesigning its new MC-21 aircraft, scheduled to go into series production in 2025, to replace all Western-supplied equipment and systems.

Initially, the production certificates hastily issued by Rosaviatsiya cover less safety-critical components such as seats and galleys, but GlobalData has seen a leaked report from the Russian transportation ministry suggesting that the scope of unapproved parts manufacturing has extended to items such as brakes and thermal pipes. Boneham said that the Russian air transport industry likely will start to cannibalize foreign aircraft for parts.

As the use of unapproved parts increases, the integrity of aircraft operated in Russia will now be very hard to guarantee. “For leasing companies, it will be hard to trace what parts are installed and even if they can recover the aircraft [from Russia] it will be hard for them to get them back to [Western-certified] airworthiness because of the [unapproved] parts they will have in them,” Boneham explained. While in the early days of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and the sanctions it triggered, owners of Western aircraft rushed to get their equipment aircraft out of the country, GlobalData said the worsening situation has prompted aircraft owners instead to consider writing off the assets altogether.

“The prospect of international lessors recovering the approximately 500 aircraft leased to Russian operators is now even more remote,” GlobalData reported. “Sanctions ordered many lessors to terminate their agreements with Russian carriers and halted any attempts to recover their aircraft from Russia. Despite this, hundreds of foreign-owned aircraft have been flying Russian domestic routes, after a law change allowed operators to re-register an aircraft in Russia without first obtaining proof of deregistration from the previous registry. This is a move that has irrevocably damaged the relationship between lessors and Russian operators.”

In March, Valery Kudinov, who at the time led Rosaviatsiya’s airworthiness maintenance department, confirmed that China had refused to supply Western-approved components for Russian aircraft. The official said that the Russian industry would likely turn to countries such as India and Turkey, which have continued to back the Putin administration, to source parts through unofficial channels.

Boneham explained that traceable bar codes on parts mean that Airbus and Boeing should be able to detect abnormal usage patterns that might suggest which customers are supplying Russian operators. In his view, Russia is a relatively small market for the Western airframers in global terms and so they likely will prioritize the preservation of good relations with customers outside the country.

As Russia’s airlines increasingly depend on bogus parts to keep their fleets airborne, Boneham said that government-backed manufacturers like UAC will look to accelerate domestic production rates. Since aircraft owned by Western companies can no longer even be flown to friendly states such as China using the mechanism of dual registration, he sees the Russian fleet becoming increasingly home-built and assets that he characterized as effectively “stolen” consigned to boneyards waiting to have any remaining serviceable parts stripped for illicit reuse.