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ICAO red-flags Russia over flight safety

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), which is part of the UN, has red-flagged Russia on its safety audit results page, the Rosaviatsia (Russian Aviation) website reports.

The organization downgraded to 77.4% its assessment of the effectiveness of the implementation of airworthiness standards in Russia. “In 2022, ICAO identified a serious safety problem with regard to Russia's ability to properly control aircraft under its jurisdiction,” the explanation reads.

On September 14, the 90-day period the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) granted to Rosaviatsia to eliminate dual registration of aircraft leased to Russian airlines expired. According to Article 18 of the Chicago Convention on International Civil Aviation, the registration of aircraft in more than one country cannot be considered valid.

Russia has several hundred foreign-made aircraft with dual registration - Russian and Bermudian. In March 2022 the Bermuda Civil Aviation Authority (BCAA) suspended the airworthiness certificates for the Russian airlines registered in Bermuda.

In order to preserve the fleet and to be able to maintain the airworthiness of the aircraft, more than 500 of them were transferred to the Russian jurisdiction. As of September 13, 560 aircraft were included in both the Russian and Bermudian registers.

When foreign-registered aircraft were transferred to the Russian jurisdiction, their airworthiness certificates were automatically renewed until the end of this year, and Rosaviatsia alone started monitoring their airworthiness, because Russia had canceled the agreement with Bermuda on the transfer of the aircraft oversight functions.

Dual registration of aircraft entails problems associated with international recognition of aircraft radio licenses and airworthiness certificates, ICAO spokesman Anthony Philbin explained in June. He warned that if the problem is not corrected by mid-September, a “red flag” will appear opposite Russia on the ICAO website.

An anonymous aviation expert told The Insider that a similar red flag was assigned to the state of Bhutan in 2018, and now Russia has a second one. In practice, this means that every other state in the world can refuse to allow Russian planes to use their airspace because of the unsafe condition of Russia’s aircraft.

“The main trigger for the ICAO decision was precisely the violation of the basic provision of the Chicago Convention (the world’s key international aviation agreement) on the inadmissibility of double registration of aircraft. But pre-conditions for flight safety problems existed in Russia for a long time, as evidenced by Russia's world-class anti-record for the number of aviation accidents and associated casualties based on the 2021 statistical data. The problems with flight safety in the Russian Federation had emerged even before the sanctions were imposed in February 2022. As a result of the sanctions, the flight safety situation has only worsened. So it was not only based on the double registration that the ICAO decided that our planes were unsafe. There are objective reasons for that. After almost all Western aircraft developers, primarily Boeing and Airbus, refused to work in the Russian Federation, our entire fleet of foreign-made aircraft (which make up at least 80% of the entire Russian Federation fleet) has ended up unattended in terms of flight safety,” the expert said.

Another anonymous expert explained to The Insider that the ICAO cannot permit or ban anything, it can only recommend and notify. But based on such information, other countries may prohibit Russian airlines to use their airspace. According to the ICAO standards, any accident or plane crash that occurs in the airspace of a country is the responsibility of the aviation authority and the authorities in general of the country where the plane crash has occurred.

Therefore, according to the expert, no country in the world wants a plane belonging to a country that does not ensure flight safety at the appropriate level to crash in its airspace.

Besides, according to the expert, Russia may also face “image losses”. “When a country, whose official language is one of the official languages of the ICAO, does not ensure flight safety and proper aircraft operation and gets a red flag, it is a loss of face. In this case, Russia is becoming an outcast in the world’s civil aviation on a reputational level. Russia was given three months to eliminate the shortcomings, but it failed to do it during that period,” the expert said.

The expert explained that the threatening situation with safety did not emerge after February 24, it had been there before. Many foreign experts, including ICAO experts, had previously stated that the Russia’s aviation legislation lagged behind the one used in the rest of the world. But despite all the flaws in Russian law, until the double registration, Russia maintained the airworthiness and safety of aircraft at the world level. “However, the theft of leased planes is exactly what led to the double registration, which is explicitly forbidden. Since March we can't get spare parts, our maintenance and repair centers don't have access to up-to-date bases. We can't receive spare parts directly from the foreign manufacturers. We buy parts of unknown origin, and engage in aviation cannibalism, which we are no longer hiding. All this has left its mark and reduced the level of safe operation of aircraft”, the expert said.

In early March, Rosaviatsia recommended Russian airlines to suspend all international flights because of fears of mass arrests of aircraft abroad.

The flight suspension threat also hangs over the Russian airliner Sukhoi Superjet 100, which could replace foreign-made airliners under sanctions. Russian airlines cannot repair and maintain the Russian-French SaM146 engines which are installed on the Superjet. This is connected with the sanctions imposed by the European Union.

At the end of May, the Chinese authorities banned flights of the Russian Boeing aircraft because of the double registration, making an exception only for transit flights. The Aviastar-TU cargo airline suffered the most from this ban. It is the main partner of the popular Russian marketplace AliExpress, as well as of the Russian Post.

Aviastar-TU uses six Boeing 757s. Five of them have Russian registration, although back in early March they were registered in Bermuda. Re-registration of the planes in Russia commenced after the owners of the airliners began withdrawing the permits they had granted to Russian airlines to use the leased aircraft.

An Aeroflot Airbus A330 was arrested in Sri Lanka at the beginning of June because of the lack of permit from the country's aviation authority. The airport administration said the problem stemmed from a commercial dispute with Celestial Aviation Trading Limited, the Irish leasing company that owns the airliner. It demanded that the court prohibit the plane from leaving the country.

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