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Russian civil aviation nearing collapse due to sanctions, Ukraine intelligence says

Newly obtained documents by Ukraine’s Main Directorate of Intelligence reveal that over 35% of Russia’s civilian aircraft have been scavenged for parts due to shortages caused by Western sanctions.
The Russian A320 aircraft performed an emergency landing on 12 September 2023. Credit: RIA Novosti

Ukraine’s Main Directorate of Intelligence (GUR) has gained access to classified documents showing that Russia’s civil aviation sector “is on the verge of collapse” due to Western sanctions over the war in Ukraine.

“As a result of a successful complex special cyber operation, we managed to obtain a large volume of closed official documents of the structural unit of the Russian Ministry of Transport, the Federal Air Transport Agency (Rosaviatsia),” the intelligence report reads.

The obtained data includes a list of Rosaviatsia’s daily reports on incidents across Russia over the past 18 months. Analysis of the documents indicates that a number of malfunctions, especially those related to engines, landing gear, and wing mechanization, appear to be systemic, the GUR says.

GUR sees the current situation as a direct result of Western sanctions, which have hit Russia’s aviation sector hard across several key areas:

Aircraft and parts supply chains have been severed, leaving Russian airlines without access to new planes or replacement components needed for maintenance and repairs.

  • US and European service providers have ended relationships with Russian carriers, cutting them off from crucial aircraft maintenance, inspections, and certification processes.
  • Western aviation software companies refuse to update navigation databases, flight planning systems, and other critical software.
  • Leased Russian aircraft operating internationally have been impounded abroad due to contract violations with sanctions-complying lessors.
  • And Russian access to international meteorological aviation data that feeds navigation systems has been curtailed, posing risks to safety.

“The sphere of civil aviation in Russia is in a zone of serious turbulence, with a high risk of entering a steep dive,” Ukraine’s intel says.

Specifically, the GUR briefing lists facts indicating serious issues for Russian civil aviation:

  • In January 2023 alone, Russia’s civil aviation sector documented 185 incidents, with around a third classified as various levels of risk. The Russian-made Sukhoi Superjet 100 accounted for 34 of the problem cases.
  • In the first nine months of 2023, 150 cases of technical aircraft failures were documented in Russia, triple the 50 such incidents recorded in January-September 2022.
  • Engines, landing gear, and key components like hydraulic systems, flaps, and software remain the most problematic areas.
  • Russia is struggling to service high-mileage aircraft and is trying to redirect maintenance to Iran, where uncertified, makeshift repairs are being done.
  • As of March 2022, Russia had about 820 foreign-made civilian aircraft. While back then, only around 10% had undergone uncertified repairs with non-original parts, that figure is now nearing 70% of the fleet.
  • A critical parts shortage has led to “aviation cannibalism,” with some planes being dismantled to repair others. Per current data, over 35% of Russia’s aircraft have been scavenged for parts.
  • Most Soviet-era An-2 planes cannot currently get off the ground because their engines were made in Poland, but sanctions have cut off supply.
  • In January 2023 alone, 19 different system failures were recorded among Russia’s 220 Airbus aircraft. Aeroflot planes accounted for 17 smoke-in-cabin incidents.
  • Boeing planes in Russia saw 33 technical failures of various onboard systems out of a fleet of around 230 aircraft.
  • Nearly one in seven Embraer planes in Russia’s fleet of 21 have failed amid conditions of Russian operations.

Additionally, in September 2022, the International Civil Aviation Organization labeled Russia with a red flag, along with Liberia and Bhutan, indicating an extremely high risk to flight safety.

“Moscow is now endangering its population in attempting by all means to hide the endless pile of problems with civil aviation.,” the GUR report states.

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