By Fangzhong Guo
How Aeroflot Is Surviving After Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine — Part 2: Narrowbodies
Editors note: This is the second article in a series on Aeroflot. Read Part 1 here.
Our last report concluded that most of Aeroflot’s widebody fleet has shifted from international to domestic flights due to international air space restrictions. What is the flag carrier doing with its domestic fleet now that the market has added capacity and reduced demand? Is there any difference in dispatch for short-haul international flights?
The Russian carrier’s single-aisle fleet primarily consists of Airbus A320 family airplanes. Ninety-three out of its 114 active narrowbodies are Airbus aircraft. The rest are Boeing 737-800s and a handful of Sukhoi Superjets. Apart from two planes repossessed overseas at the start of the invasion and one that suffered ground damage in 2020, all are currently in the Russian registry.
Aeroflot operates six Airbus A320neos and three Airbus A321neos, averaging only 1.6 years old. The carrier put its youngest A320neo in storage since the start of the war while using others regularly. Although this is a tiny sub-fleet, it still covered most of the airline’s A320 family routes. The A320neos were even flying to Russia-friendly territories such as Belarus and Kyrgyzstan. Both countries have quietly allowed dual-registered planes in their airspace.
The Airbus A321ceo sub-fleet is the next largest narrowbody sub-fleet with 32 airframes operating in Aeroflot colors, four of which are in storage as of August 2022. All are sanction related, except for VP-BAX, which has been stored due to damage since 2020. The state-owned company initially parked a single plane in February, then gradually added more in June and July. The change in this fleet appears most probably for spare part scavenging.
In addition to Kyrgyzstan and Belarus, the A321s are in charge of flying to Iran and Armenia. These countries are also under strict sanctions from the west, so they are less likely to assist in sanctions against Russia.
The Moscow-based carrier’s fleet has 52 active A320ceos, the largest sub-fleet under its wings. The type started with one aircraft parked in February and gradually added four more.
However, according to its 2021 annual report, it has 58 of this type in its books at the year’s end. There’s a discrepancy even after subtracting the two repossessed airplanes. Since 98% percent of the carrier’s fleet is on a lease, the planes may be in its accounting book but not active. After further examination, the difference likely comes from those that went into storage for early lease returns in 2021.
This fleet is the most active in international flying. It includes the only narrowbodies flying to Turkey, Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan. While 48 A320s carry passengers in Aeroflot colors, only five have made trips to these countries.
Russia’s State Transport Leasing Company (GTLK) owns all five and only these five airplanes in the Airbus narrowbody fleet. A similar trend also appeared in the company’s 777 fleets, where GTLK-owned planes fly to international destinations such as Istanbul and Delhi.
Since Turkey previously stated it would only allow clean-title aircraft into the country, it’s possible GTLK formally transferred the plane’s ownership to Aeroflot. All aircraft on these routes started international service in the second half of July, which indicates the possibility of an organized effort to restart international service. Restarting international services using GTLK planes likely necessitated swapping one airframe out of storage.
On the other side of the aisle, the carrier has 37 Boeing 737-800s. Similar to the other types, it also started with a single frame in storage, and the number gradually increased to five.
This sub-type is one the most-sanctioned narrowbody in the state-owned carrier’s fleet. The US Commerce Department imposed sanctions on most members in this fleet in late March, which caused the airline to shift all Boeing planes to domestic and Belarus-bound flights. Similar to using only clean-title planes for most international long-haul flights, it’s also keeping these planes within its borders, away from trouble.
These Russian-made machines were already on their way out of Aeroflot’s fleet. The group has been transferring the SSJ100s from the Aeroflot brand to Rossiya.
The latest one will likely be RA-89025, which visited Ulyanovsk, Russia, recently for painting. None of the other three frames are flying passenger services, either.
Despite all the sanctions, the state-owned company has found ways to expand its operations. It may have a chance to rejoin world aviation if it keeps following the rules of countries with connections to the west. However, in the more likely case that it can’t, it’ll have 300 brand new Russian planes to rejuvenile its 100-year history.