With airlines struggling to support their foreign fleets, Russia’s leadership is spending more on its aviation industry. But is it enough?
We have seen that Russian airlines have been struggling to find spares for their Airbus and Boeing aircraft. There are reports of some parts arriving from spurious sources. But Russia’s aviation industry apparently needs some additional help.
Russian subsidies supporting various facets of the country’s commercial aviation have surpassed $12 billion, according to Reuters. But not all of these funds go directly towards the country’s own industry.
190 billion Russian roubles ($2.06 billion) have gone towards buybacks of Western aircraft. To date, about 92 aircraft that were already in Russia, have become Russian property. But while this status change from “stolen” to “owned” is certainly positive, it doesn’t buy spare parts and service for these jets. For now, anyway.
The Needs of Russia’s Aviation Industry
Eventually, Russian airlines hope to be able to source spares for these jets that they now operate legally, IF sanctions are lifted. But in the longer term, Russia’s leadership wants the country’s aviation industry to solve the problem with all-Russian aircraft.
At the moment, Aeroflot and other carriers operate mostly Airbuses and Boeings, along with Sukhoi Superjets (SSJ100s) and some older types in regional routes. However, even though its final assembly is done in Russia, the Superjet is far from all-Russian. Its engines and effectively all of its key electronics and other systems come from Western vendors.
The same is true for the MS-21 (“MC-21” in Cyrillic), the newest commercial product of Russia’s aviation industry. The aircraft has flown with Russian engines, and Russia’s aviation authority has certified these engines (Aviadvigatel PD-14). But producing the aircraft and putting it to service would require many more parts and systems to be “Russified”.
With Russia now throwing money at the problem, this could happen – eventually. Earlier this year, Russian authorities estimated that they would need 711 billion roubles ($7.72 billion) to gain independence from Western aircraft manufacturers.
In a recent public statement, Vladimir Putin said that Russia’s aviation industry will produce 1,000 aircraft by 2030. This is quite a bold target. It amounts to nearly 14 aircraft per month, over six years. For reference, before Russia escalated the war in Ukraine in 2022, Irkut planned to make 10 Sukhoi SuperJets ANNUALLY.
A Slow Production Ramp-up
Sources within the country show that Russia’s aviation industry managed to build just two airliners in the first half of 2023. There is no confirmation on what type these jets were – only that they have an empty weight of over 15 tons. They were likely Sukhoi SSJs, that Irkut completed using its existing supply of parts.
It is unclear if these jets have entered service or not. But in theory, if redesigning the SSJ100 and the MS-21 takes too long, Russia’s aviation industry has the Tupolev Tu-214 as an alternative. This 757-sized airliner is 100% Russian. And its production line was already in place well before 2022.
However, only small numbers of Tu-214s were ever made, for government and military users. More investment would be necessary, to increase the type’s production. But it’s unclear if Russia’s aviation industry would prefer to focus on this, or the much more modern and efficient MS-21.
Either way, the $12 billion that Russia has spent since March 2022 has had to cover both the airlines and aircraft manufacturers. The amount is around double what Russia’s authorities spent on the country’s aviation industry for a similar period during the pandemic. So, can Russia sustain these spending rates?