Russian air force isolation increases as planes stay put

LONDON — Russian airline Aeroflot said on Saturday it would halt overseas flights as the country’s aviation authority imposed limits on planes that can leave its borders, increasing Russia’s isolation of the global air transport system.

Aeroflot-Russian Airlines PJSC said it was suspending almost all international flights in response to government instructions. The carrier said it would maintain flights to Minsk, the capital of neighboring Belarus which has maintained close ties with Russia throughout the conflict and has been used as a staging base for Russian troops. About a quarter of the airline’s 3.5 million passengers in January were on international flights.

The action by Russia’s largest airline came shortly after the country’s federal air transport agency, Rosaviatsia, issued a directive that effectively bars more than half of planes in Russian fleets from flying on most international routes. It is expected to come into effect on Sunday.

The measure cuts a large part of the international flights that Russian airlines could still serve after Western countries blocked their airspace to these carriers in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“This recommendation is due to the high risk of detention or seizure of Russian airlines’ planes abroad,” Rosaviatsia said. Domestic flights will continue without restrictions.

The government action does not affect Russian airlines that operate foreign- or Russian-registered planes to places where there is no risk of them being seized, the agency said. Domestic flights are not affected.

Russia’s second largest carrier, S7 Airlines, said on Friday it would halt all international flights from March 5.

Airlines are dealing with the fallout from sanctions that have largely cut Russia off from the global financial system and measures more directly targeting the country’s aviation sector. The European Union has given aircraft leasing companies until March 28 to cancel contracts with Russian airlines. This is pushing companies, including the world’s largest lessor, AerCap Holdings NV, to cancel deals with Russian operators.

Russia’s commercial aircraft fleet is highly dependent on leasing agreements. Russian operators lease 515 planes to foreign leasing companies affected by the sanctions, out of 861 planes in service, according to aeronautical data specialist Cirium. The edict from the Russian government agency increases fears among some lessors and insurers that efforts to repossess the planes will become even more difficult.

At least some leasing companies expected Russia to take action to keep the planes and were looking to anticipate that by trying to take them back quickly, according to senior industry executives. There have only been a handful of successful attempts to recover property. An example is a Boeing Co. 737-800 aircraft, a predecessor model to the MAX, operated by Aeroflot’s discount unit Pobeda. The plane was seized last weekend while at an Istanbul airport after the plane’s owner tracked the plane’s movements and managed to convince the country’s authorities to prevent the jet from taking off, according to a person familiar with the repossession.

According to Phil Seymour, president of aviation consultancy IBA Group, the financial burden of Russian carriers who do not return their planes should fall primarily on the leasing companies’ insurers, who are likely to have to pay the full value of the aircraft. plane. The market value of foreign-leased planes currently flown by Russian airlines is around $12 billion, according to an analysis by London-based aviation consultancy Ishka.

Russia’s aviation sector has faced intense unrest in response to the country’s military assault on its neighbour. In addition to airspace bans issued by the US, EU, Canada and others, aircraft manufacturers and maintenance companies have been banned from supplying new aircraft and spare parts. needed to keep the current fleet flying.

Companies including Texas-based Saber Corp. and Spain’s Amadeus IT Group SA, which provide the systems used to distribute fares to the public and travel agencies, said they would withdraw Aeroflot’s support on their systems. The EU and the UK have asked insurance companies to withdraw cover from Russian airlines. Some insurers have already notified their customers that they are canceling their policies which are required to fly under international regulations.

“Due to the hostile decisions of a number of foreign governments regarding civil aviation of the Russian Federation, Russian airlines and passengers have become an instrument and hostage of a political struggle,” Rosaviatsia said in his statement.

Limits on Russian airlines flying abroad leave Russians with few flight options. Airlines from countries such as the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Qatar and Serbia are among the few that still regularly serve Russian destinations.

Doug Cameron contributed to this article.

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