Hijackings, bomb attacks on commercial aircraft, smuggling explosive devices into the cargo holds of cargo planes or into the overhead bins of passenger cabins - all this is known and - unfortunately – has often happened. But the mass expropriation of entire fleets by a government - that is a criminal unicum. This is currently being practiced by Rosaviatsia, the Federal Air Transport Agency of Russia.
Russia is stealing hundreds of aircraft. If someone would have claimed this just months ago, he would probably have been declared a Russophobe or even completely insane. At least in most
countries of this world. But the unthinkable has happened and continues to happen: Moscow is re-registering the mass of aircraft leased by Russian airlines and adding them to its own aviation
registry. According to aviation consultant IBA, at the time of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, 523 passenger and cargo aircraft being used by national airlines were owned by foreign lessors. At S7
alone, there are 101 jetliners, at state-owned Aeroflot, 89.
Most of these aircraft are likely to be subject to a rental-type operating lease - a contract with a fixed term, rate, and return provision. Due to the EU sanctions, leasing companies had to terminate their contracts with Russian airlines by 31MAR22 and reclaim their aircraft if they wanted to avoid losing their assets. But Russian airlines generally did not deliver, thus violating contractual return obligations. In other words, they kept foreign property in their fleets and continued to fly with it, at least on domestic routes. This was also the case with the cargo airline, AirBridgeCargo, which leased all of its Boeing freighters. Like three B747-8Fs owned by Singapore-based BOC Aviation Limited. BOC got one of these freighters back after a court order. It is now located in the USA. But ABC is not returning two other large freighters of this type to their owners, despite requests and reminders. However, if the BOC freighters end up in a third country, they must be confiscated by the local authorities and returned to the lessor.
Huge recourse claims by aircraft insurers against Russian airlines and Rosaviatsia, which is formally responsible for the russification of Boeing and Airbus aircraft, are already foreseeable. In
addition, no leasing company is likely to lease any of its aircraft to Russian airlines in the long term. The risk of state-organized breach of contract and thus loss of value is too great. The
latter is happening more and more every day with the confiscated aircraft. This is because maintenance cannot be carried out in accordance with international safety standards, and defective
component replacements cannot be delivered to Russia by the manufacturing companies due to the sanctions. As a result, the hijacked aircraft end up on the blacklists of the EU and FAA and may at
best still be used nationally (see also our interview with legal expert, Professor Elmar Giemulla).
Their fate is probably that they will gradually mutate into flying spare parts warehouses from which instruments and components are removed to supply a core fleet as needed. Their numbers will therefore gradually dwindle. In the medium term, Russia will only be able to play a role as an aviation nation if it produces its own modern, high-performance, and fuel-efficient aircraft. And a U-turn in policy to qualify again as a contractual partner for Western leasing companies.
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