LONDON – Today marks a week since the invasion of Ukraine by Russian forces. On the aviation front, here is what we know so far.
A lot has happened on the aviation front so far in response to this crisis, so in case you have been stuck under a rock for the last week, here is our overall recap.
Fate of the Antonov AN-225 Mriya Confirmed…
As soon as the invasion began, there were loads of questions about the status of the Antonov AN-225 Mriya.
Upon Gostomel Airport being seized by Russian paratroopers, it was assumed the worst case had happened, with the aircraft either being seized or destroyed.
That same day, there was confirmation that the aircraft had not been destroyed and was still safe and airworthy in its hangar at the airport just outside of Kyiv.
Gostomel Airport had then returned to Ukrainian control, offering significant hopes that the aircraft would be safe and secure for the time being at that point.
This further strengthened the words that came from Ukroboronprom, the company that manages Antonov Airlines, that they will build the AN-225 Mriya, insisting that the Russians would have to pay for it.
Within that, a hint of good news came about, with Ukroboronprom mentioning that a second Mriya would be built once this conflict is over.
The West’s Response To The Invasion…
When the invasion began, the UK Government was quick to respond with such sanctions, including banning Russian carrier Aeroflot from entering its airspace.
This resulted in football team Manchester United having to cancel its sponsorship deal with the Russian carrier, and use alternative carriers instead for international matches.
As sanctions on the west continued, so did the response from the Russian government. By February 28, Rosaviatsia instigated a ban of 36 countries from operating or entering Russian airspace.
On the other side of the Atlantic, the pressure was being applied onto U.S President Joe Biden to join the airspace ban, especially with neighbors Canada and the European Union being quicker on this front.
Biden eventually instigated the airspace ban at his State of the Union address, with the understanding he is asking for $6.5bn from Congress to help support Ukraine in the crisis.
There was then news that the Ukrainian Air Force was due to receive 70 fighter jets from EU and NATO countries, which was then reversed days later due to it potentially resulting in direct conflict with the Russians.
Such controversy in the West occurred on two fronts in terms of the airspace ban. First, the Polish & Slovakian governments allowed a Russian Ilyushin IL-76 into European airspace in order to deliver nuclear fuel to the Slovak government.
The second level was over in Serbia, where the government in Belgrade has not instigated an airspace ban as of yet, resulting in Air Serbia exploiting the high level of demand for Moscow and St. Petersburg flights.
Another aspect of controversy came from Canada where it more or less allowed two Aeroflot Airbus A350s to enter Canadian airspace, despite the ban being in place by the time it entered.
An investigation is to take place into why this was allowed to happen, with all eyes now on Canadian authorities to make sure this doesn’t happen again.
Repercussions On The Aviation Front
Such repercussions on the aviation front began with Delta Air Lines withdrawing its codesharing arrangements with Aeroflot as a result of the ongoing crisis.
Then, disruption on the Aeroflot side began when one of its Airbus A321s got stuck in Geneva as a result of the sanctions, with the aircraft to be returned to lessor.
Not long after, one of the airline’s Boeing 737-800s had to divert to Istanbul whilst attempting to enter Greek airspace whilst en route to Verona, Italy, which was unsuccessful.
Matters for Russian commercial aviation then went from bad to worse, with news that across 17 Russian airlines, up to 670 aircraft could be withdrawn by lessors as a result of sanctions.
The list is as follows:
- Aeroflot: 160 out of 184 aircraft (+4 on order/planned)
- S7 Airlines: 107 out of 105 aircraft (+14 on order/planned)
- Rossiya Airlines: 93 out of 124 aircraft (+10 on order/planned)
- Ural Airlines: 52 out of 53 aircraft (+3 on order/planned)
- Utair: 26 out of 62 aircraft (+3 on order/planned)
- Aurora: 11 out of 18 aircraft (+1 on order/planned)
- NordStar Airlines: 11 out of 11 aircraft (+3 on order/planned)
- Yakutia Airlines: 14 out of 15 aircraft (+1 on order/planned)
- Yamal Airlines: 13 out of 29 aircraft
- Pobeda: 44 out of 44 aircraft
- Smartavia: 15 out of 15 aircraft (+2 on order/planned)
- Azur Air: 28 out of 33 aircraft (+1 on order/planned)
- Red Wings: 16 out of 30 aircraft (+2 on order/planned)
- Nordwind Airlines: 43 out of 45 aircraft (+1 on order/planned)
- Ikar (Pegasfly): 15 out of 15 aircraft.
- I-Fly: 8 out of 8 aircraft.
- Royal Flight: 14 out of 14 aircraft.
At that point, it was unclear whether the aircraft could fly through banned airspace for humanitarian reasons, but this, of course, was rejected and the aircraft had to conduct around 14-15 hour flights in order to pick such passengers up.
With around 40% of their revenue coming from Asian destinations, this is going to have to force the airline to rethink its business strategy in the short term.
Back in the States, on the same day, Alaska Airlines announced a suspension of its partnerships with oneworld carrier S7 Airlines as well as Aeroflot.
Then, yesterday, in a very random act of kindness, Wizz Air announced it would offer 100,000 Ukrainian refugees free flights to get to their final destination, whether that is with friends or relatives or generous members of the European population who have offered them their homes to stay in.
Ryanair’s Michael O’Leary also expressed his support for Ukraine and that the coming 12 months are going to be very difficult, especially with the conflict pushing the price of oil to $100 per barrel.
Another major repercussion on the aviation front is that analysts in the asset sector for aviation predict that Russian carriers have around three weeks before they collapse due to lessor withdrawals.
This has come from Jan Nedvidek, a Structured & Asset Finance Associate at Allen & Overy who works within the aviation sector. He said the following:
“I work in the aviation sector, and I can tell you that for all intents and purposes Russian aviation has – at best – about three weeks before it’s show over. One aspect is the fact that airspace available to Russian aircraft is very, very limited now. However, there is more:”
“Very few aircraft are actually owned by airlines, and instead, most are owned by lessor companies, most of which are Irish.”
“Under the sanctions regime, the view in the legal community is that those leases have to be terminated, otherwise Irish companies will be criminally liable.”
“More importantly: Russian operators are unable to effect insurance. Without those, no national aviation authority will allow access to its airspace. This would in effect mean the end of Russian operators flying internationally.”
“Furthermore, despite the presence of some Sukhois, Ilyushins, and Antonovs, the bulk of aircraft operated in Russia is still Boeing and Airbus. Those use CFM, GE, and Rolls Royce engines.”
“All these manufacturers have cut off access to repair manuals without which the aircraft and engines cannot be serviced. They have also issued a global ban on servicing in other countries so that Russian aircraft cannot be flown abroad for maintenance.”
“They have also stopped the supply of spare parts. From talking to our clients, I understand most airlines keep about a 2 or 3 weeks worth of spares supplies.”
“What does this mean? Russia will be in effect cut off from international travel, perhaps with the notable exception of China. It will be more isolated than the USSR, and even domestic journeys will be severely limited. Sanctions – if drafted well – do work.”
“We can probably expect that some international operators will continue to operate some flights, perhaps to Istanbul or Dubai. But we’re talking about going from 100s of cross-border flights to perhaps 6 or 7. Why so few?”
“Europe is relatively unique in having an ‘open sky’. Provided an airline meets certain criteria, it can fly as many flights it wants within European airspace.”
“Other countries don’t always have this, and the number of flights and airports pairs (routes) between them is regulated.”
“Unless, say, Turkey enters into an open sky agreement with Russia, which surely is unthinkable in the circumstances, the number of flights going to Turkey will be heavily suppressed by regulation.”
“It’s also worth noting that even if someone very cleverly managed to find a way – and I am sure there are plenty of fellow lawyers in law offices all over Russia thinking very hard about this – there is literally no way for Russian entities to make international payments.”
“They, therefore, won’t even be able to refuel or pay for airport charges. Even China would have to accept either a cash payment the yuans held by the Russian Central Bank or some form of extended credit, both of which are very unlikely.”
Finally, there was the significant news that came out of global distribution system provider Sabre who announced the removal of Aeroflot from its system, which disables its ability to sell tickets and hinders international operations.
What Can We Expect Next?
For us here at AviationSource, a week of this crisis has felt far longer, and our hearts go out to those who have been affected by this tragic and illegal invasion by Russia.
In terms of what we can expect next, it is so unclear. One thing we do know at the moment is that Kyiv’s Boryspil International Airport is yet to be captured by Russian forces.
Therefore, we believe that if any advances are made, this is probably where we will hear more news from and whether the Russians do indeed capture it fully.
Unfortunately, all we can do is sit back and wait to see what unfolds next, and what other sanctions will be placed.
What we do know is that the climate of global aerospace and the whole world will change as a result of what we have seen in the last week in Ukraine.