Airbus A320-232 The tail number YU-APH made its maiden flight on December 13, 2005. Since then, the plane has flown millions of miles, flying the routes of Air Deccan, Air Kingfisher, Air Bingo and Air Syphax before being taken over by Air Serbia, Eastern Europe in 2014 National flag airline.
For eight years, YU-APH had no problems – until landing at Moscow Sheremetyevo International Airport on May 25, 2022 at 10:37 pm. It had flown in from Belgrade and was due to take off again within an hour when it returned late at night. But there was a problem: Pilots reported a problem with the plane’s engine casing that needed repair. Charlotte, North Carolina-based Collins Aerospace, the supplier of the damaged parts, reportedly refused to address the issue, citing Russia sanctions for its February 2022 invasion of Ukraine. The plane is stuck. (Collins Aerospace did not respond to a request for comment.)
It took six days to fix the problem and leave Moscow for Belgrade on the A320. Air Serbia also did not respond to a request for comment on how the engine casing was replaced or fixed and who made the part. YU-APH has managed to make amends for its faults, but there is growing international concern that planes flying in, out and around Russia could become a safety risk as sanctions prevent their normal maintenance. Patrick Key, executive director of the European Union Aviation Safety Agency, said at a recent meeting that he considered the situation “very unsafe”. “In six months – who knows? In a year – who knows?” he said.
Russia’s commercial jet fleet stood at 876 planes at the end of May, down from 968 at the end of February, according to Ascend by Cirium, an aviation industry consultancy. Most of them are made by Airbus or Boeing planes, both of which have stopped supplying Russian airlines with spare parts in order to comply with sanctions rules. “They’re not allowed to get any type of parts from Boeing or Airbus,” said Bijan Vasigh, a professor of economics at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. “Transfer of any components or technical expertise to Russia is prohibited.” The problem is that the planes require constant maintenance, repairs and replacements.
Airplanes are not simple things, a cornucopia of parts come together to keep passengers in the air. And due to the high-risk nature of flying, some parts need to be replaced very regularly. Anyone who’s ever watched a plane come down from the ground or an observation deck knows that getting heavy metal tubes to stop can be a challenge. The tires are one of the worst-hit parts on the plane, with rubber burning when braking and a constant plume of smoke coming out of the wheels – a massive glossy black mark on the tarmac. The tires are changed every 120 to 400 landings. Domestic flights on short-haul domestic routes can make four trips a day, meaning the wheels need to be changed every one to three months. Boeing stopped supplying the Russian market 113 days ago on March 1. A day later, Airbus followed suit. “They wear out,” Max Kingsley Jones, senior consultant at Ascend by Cirium, said of the wheels. “They can’t source replacement tires: that’s a potential risk.”
Worn tires are just the first sign of rot. Aircraft are powered by computer systems that require regular maintenance, some systems are programmed to shut down and reset after multiple flight cycles or calendar days. This includes aircraft engines and auxiliary power units, the generators that pump compressed air into the cabin during flight and power the ignition of the engines when the aircraft is first started. “Some of these components have a lifetime,” Kingsley Jones said. “When they reach a certain age or a certain number of flights, they actually have to be taken off the plane and replaced.” Despite the stereotype of old, worn-out planes landing on the ground, Russia’s aircraft fleet is in line with the world’s The planes in most other regions compare favorably. According to the Russian Association of Travel Agents, the average age of Russian-operated aircraft is 10.5 years. According to management consultancy Oliver Wyman, the global average passenger jet age is 10.3 years.