An Airbus A320-232 with the tail number YU-APH made its first flight on December 13, 2005. Since then, the plane has traveled millions of miles, en route to Air Deccan, Kingfisher Airlines, Bingo Airways and Syphax Airlines. before being taken over by Air Serbia. , the national flag company of the Eastern European country, in 2014.
For eight years, YU-APH flew without any problems, until it landed at 22:37 on May 25, 2022 at Moscow Sheremetyevo International Airport. He had flown from Belgrade and had to take off again with a one-night return flight in an hour. But there was a problem: the pilot had reported a problem with the aircraft engine casing that needed to be fixed. The supplier of the broken part, Collins Aerospace, based in Charlotte, North Carolina, refused to resolve the issue, citing sanctions against Russia as a result of its invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. The plane was stuck. (Collins Aerospace did not respond to a request for comment.)
It took six days to fix the problem and the A320 left Moscow for Belgrade. Air Serbia also did not respond to a request for comment on how the engine housing was replaced or repaired and who manufactured the part. YU-APH has managed to rectify its failure, but there is growing international concern that planes flying to, from and around Russia could become a security risk, as sanctions prevent that are maintained properly. Patrick Ky, executive director of the European Union Aviation Safety Agency, told a recent conference that he felt the situation was “very unsafe”. “In six months, who knows? In a year, who knows? He said.
At the end of May, there were 876 aircraft in the Russian commercial aircraft fleet, according to data provided by Ascend by Cirium, an airline consulting firm, below the 968 aircraft at the end of February. Most of them were manufactured by Airbus or Boeing aircraft, which stopped supplying spare parts to Russian airlines in order to comply with the sanctions rules. “They’re not allowed to get any kind of parts from Boeing or Airbus,” says Bijan Vasigh, a professor of economics at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. “The transfer of any part or technical experience to Russia is prohibited.” The problem is that aircraft need constant maintenance, repairs and replacements.
Planes are no easy task, with a cornucopia of pieces coming together to keep passengers in the air. And due to the high-risk nature of the flight, some parts need to be changed very regularly. Anyone who has ever seen a plane land from the ground or an observation deck will know that stopping a heavy metal tube is a challenge. Tires are among the hardest parts of an airplane, burning rubber as the brakes are applied, with puffs of smoke often coming out of the wheels and many black, slippery traces remaining on the asphalt. Tires are changed every 120 to 400 landings a plane makes. Domestic flights with short domestic routes could make four trips a day, which means the wheels have to be changed every one to three months. Boeing stopped supplying the Russian market on March 1 113 days ago. Airbus followed a day later. “They’re going to be spent,” says Max Kingsley Jones, senior consultant at Ascend by Cirium, of the wheels. “They can’t get spare tires – that’s a potential risk.”
Worn tires would only be the first sign of deterioration. Airplanes operate on computer systems that require regular maintenance, with some systems scheduled to shut down after several flight cycles or calendar days and reset them. This includes aircraft engines and auxiliary power units, the electricity generator that pumps compressed air through the cockpit in flight and feeds the engine ignition when the aircraft is first turned on. “Some of these parts have a limited life,” says Kingsley Jones. “They literally have to get off the plane and replace them when they reach a certain age or a certain number of flights.” Despite the stereotype of launching old and wrecked planes to the ground, Russia’s aircraft fleet compares favorably with that of much of the rest of the world. The average age of a Russian-operated plane is 10.5 years, according to the Association of Tour Operators of Russia. The average age of the passenger plane worldwide is 10.3 years, according to management consultant Oliver Wyman.