Russia has re-registered 360 aircraft since the start of March 2022, according to new data from consultancy IBA.
IBA says the greatest flurry of re-registering occurred between March 13 and March 18, 2022, when nearly 150 re-registrations were recorded.
Russia moved to re-register aircraft following sanctions imposed on the aviation industry over its invasion of Ukraine. Under the sanctions, EU lessors had to end contracts with Russian operators. Usually the lessors would then repossess their aircraft.
However, Russia has kept the aircraft in the country to avoid repossession. Bermuda, where many aircraft leased to Russia were registered, then revoked airworthiness certificates, which should mean the aircraft being grounded. However, by re-registering aircraft to its own registry, Russia can keep the aircraft flying, albeit while flouting international aviation agreements.
IBA highlights that under international aviation law, it is illegal to re-register an aircraft without first obtaining proof of deregistration from the previous registry and the permission of the owner.
“This presents a dilemma for Russian airlines – do they ground their entire fleets due to a lack of safety certification, or forcibly re-register their aircraft to continue domestic operations, risking permanently poisoning relationships with their foreign lessors?” aviation analyst Suleiman Atif commented in the IBA post.
Certainly, some leasing executives have expressed sympathy for the dilemma for Russian airlines, which had spent years working on improving relationships with international lessors.
“I feel sorry for our Russian customers. They’ve been put in this situation not by something they’ve done but by something that someone else has done,” Bob Martin, the head of lessor BOC Aviation, told a CAPA summit on April 7, 2022.
IBA said that of the 360 re-registered aircraft, 171 belong to non-Russian lessors. AerCap is the most affected, with 49 aircraft, followed by Air Lease Corporation with 13 aircraft, SMBC Aviation Capital with 12 aircraft and Carlyle Aviation Management with 10 aircraft
AerCap said on March 30, 2022 that it has filed a $3.5 billion insurance claim for aircraft and engines left in Russia. The lessor said it had 135 owned aircraft and 14 engines on lease to Russian airlines but had repossessed 22 aircraft and three engines from Russia as of March 30.
The effect of the sanctions also raises safety concerns over maintenance and oversight of the aircraft. With aerospace manufacturers ending maintenance support to Russian companies, it is expected Russia will have to start cannibalizing aircraft for parts to keep others in the air.
With Russia choosing to re-register aircraft whose airworthiness certificates had been revoked, the European Union added Russian airlines to its air safety blacklist.
IBA also set out a list of which Russia airlines are operating the illegally re-registered aircraft:
- Ural Airlines – 52 cases
- Nordwind Airlines – 23 cases
- Rossiya – 14 cases
- Smartavia – 13 cases
- Aeroflot – 12 cases