By Fangzhong Guo
How Aeroflot Is Surviving After Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine — Part 1: Widebodies
Six months have passed since Russia invaded Ukraine. Despite overwhelming support for Ukraine from the rest of the world, there is still no end in sight to the conflict between the two countries.
Nearly every global industry has seen changes to their operations, supply chains or both, but civil aviation saw some of the most direct impacts of the invasion. And largely forgotten amidst all those changes is Russian flag carrier Aeroflot, a 99-year-old airline operating a fleet of over 150 aircraft to nearly as many destinations.
Aeroflot announced its second quarter operating results on July 26. The airline had stopped posting financial results since the first three months 2022. However, since this is the first full quarter that the airline operated entirely under the influence of the invasion, it still provided fascinating insights into the country’s travel industry.
The Moscow-based airline saw the biggest drop in international traffic in April, down 78.2% from April 2021. This dip contributed to a 57.8% drop for the entire second quarter. Domestic was nowhere near as dreadful, with passenger numbers dropping only 16.7% from 2021 levels. Overall passenger numbers dropped 22.4% from the 2021 level for the carrier.
The airline saw a steady recovery despite the falling ruble and regional conflict. However, part of the strong demand may result from the pent-up demand after coming out of the pandemic.
Due to worldwide sanctions, the majority of the Aeroflot fleet is still limited to domestic operations. The airspace restrictions also significantly limited the carrier’s destinations. Aeroflot’s widebody fleet includes 12 Airbus A330s, seven Airbus A350 XWBs, and 22 Boeing 777s. As reported previously, the airline owns eight of the A330s and leases most of the other planes in its fleet.
The Russian carrier’s Airbus A330 fleet is still the workhorse of its international operation. One aircraft remains parked while the rest of the fleet operates international routes nearly exclusively.
Since June, the airline has added back three destinations in China, including Chengdu, Beijing, and Shanghai. Since the Chinese authority mandated only clean-title airplanes can operate in its airspace, A330s serve all these routes.
All routes are once weekly due to the Covid-19 restrictions in the country. The strict Covid regulation also necessitated a technical stop at Krasnoyarsk, Russia, for the return flights from Shanghai and Guangzhou, China.
On the other side of the world, Turkey was one of the first countries to receive Aeroflot flights following the invasion. It has since added a third widebody destination, Bodrum, Turkey. The A330 is an upgrade to the route previously operated by Airbus A320 family airplanes.
South Asia also saw some changes to the airline’s operation. Aeroflot suspended the Colombo, Sri Lanka, route after the detention debacle in June. In the meantime, it extended its Male, Maldives, and Delhi schedule through the winter while adding Phuket, Thailand, starting end of October. All of which are popular winter destinations for the northern country.
The Moscow-based airline’s Airbus A350 fleet only averages 1.7 years old. One aircraft remains grounded while the rest of the fleet operates all but one flight domestically. The outlier was a flight from Moscow to Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, on Aug 20, 2022.
A330 and Airbus A320 family airplanes commonly serve the Moscow to Bishkek Route. It’s also the only international route operated by the two GECAS-owned A330s. The former Soviet state government may continue to allow dual-registered airplanes into its airspace. Therefore, it remains to be seen if A350 will operate this route again.
Despite the re-registration, the ADS-B data for the A350 fleet is still tied to each aircraft’s original registration number.
The state-owned carrier’s Boeing 777 family airplanes are among the most sanctioned in its fleet. Therefore, besides the two parked 777s, the vast majority of this fleet is on domestic duty. The US Commerce Department even created a blacklist that prevents anyone from servicing US-made planes under Russian control.
However, there are three exceptions to this rule. RA-73146, RA-73158, and RA-73141 have been operating flights in and out of the country. RA-73141 operated a single flight to Istanbul and could be a simple data glitch.
The other two planes have been flying from Moscow to Male and Delhi. Both airplanes, while seemingly owned by Aeroflot, are on the blocklist. It’s unclear if this U.S. Department of Commerce has sought any disciplinary actions. In the meantime, the schedule shows that 777 will continue to serve these two routes until the end of October, possibly longer. Another oddity is that Aeroflot took delivery of both planes on the same day — March 29, 2019.
The widebody fleet stuck in Russia has been running short and heavy domestic routes such as Moscow to Sochi. The national airline also has limited options to expand internationally. Both factors lead to more takeoffs and low utilization, which accelerate the aging of these airframes. That is not likely to change any time soon.