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“If Africa starts making parts from elephant tusks, we could buy those too.” Russian Mintrans to allow will-fit parts for planes

The Russian Ministry of Transport has prepared a draft directive authorizing the maintenance and repair of foreign-made airplanes with non-genuine spare parts manufactured “in line with the procedures of leading countries of the global aviation community”. However, the ministry failed to specify which countries they were referring to.

An aviation expert who wished to remain anonymous told The Insider that this step will inevitably take its toll on flight safety and is a “tardy measure” on the part of the Russian government, a belated attempt to “salvage what’s left of Russian civilian aviation”. The expert believes the document is highly likely to give absolution for importing and using “all sort of things that ostensibly meet the requirements of the Federal Air Transport Agency”.

According to the document published by the Ministry of Transport the other day, the project aims to neutralize the impact of Western sanctions that have made Russia unable to procure certified parts for its airplanes from abroad. The ministry points out the impossibility of deploying domestic manufacturing capabilities (the timeline of such a project would exceed the service life of many parts) and suggest authorizing the repair of planes with will-fit parts.

Notably, the draft mentions non-genuine parts manufactured in line with particular certification procedures. On paper, the procedures in question include Part Manufacturer Approval (PMA), European Part Approval (EPA), and Technical Standard Orders Authorization (TSOA).

As the expert explained to The Insider, the use of such parts is not unprecedented or even novel: “The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) established a system for the certification of non-genuine articles several decades ago. The system in question is known as the PMA. Its analogs have since been adopted by many countries including China.”

“Thus, China developed and started manufacturing the majority of expendable supplies for Airbus and Boeing domestically, such as brake plates and tires, many years ago. Meanwhile, Russia’s aviation authorities did not start considering the implementation of such a system until March, when it was a forced decision, and began devising the rules. However, at the moment they are after buying Iranian parts instead of providing domestic manufacturers with localization opportunities. This will undoubtedly compromise flight safety in Russia.”

In July, Russia revealed its intention to procure airplane components from Iran. The two countries undertook to sign a memorandum of cooperation facilitating the export of Iranian airplane parts to Russia. Meanwhile, Iran is also under sanctions (albeit more lenient in this area) and buys some of its parts through parallel import schemes. According to the aviation expert, Iran has “some of the oldest planes in the world”, while Russia’s Aeroflot “can boast the youngest airplane fleet, which has become a great disadvantage. Mud and straw won't keep it flight-worthy.”

“Iran has an original system based on a simple principle. If a supplier ranks higher than Iran in the ICAO flight safety rating, Tehran procures parts from them without further ado. Russia has already banked on China when it comes to will-fit parts, while Iran places them in the gray zone after China’s history of dumping subpar, but overpriced components to Iran. This has resulted in compromised flight safety, which Iran is yet to address. We cannot rule out the repetition of the scenario in Russia,” the expert clarified.

He also suggested that the Ministry of Transport's draft could be used for procuring parts not only from Iran on China but from anyone willing to sell just about anything.

“Our ‘valorous’ Russian aviation authorities will approve all and sundry as meeting the requirements of the Federal Air Transport Agency, including African manufacturers. We saw it happen with the government decree on May 9, when the Federal Air Transport Agency and the Ministry of Transport permitted (against Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin's personal responsibility) using any genuine parts with any proof of airworthiness, including certificates issued by ‘reliable’ Egyptian aviation authorities. Before that, the only accepted proof had to be issued by US, European, or Canadian authorities. Essentially, similar permission has been issued for non-genuine parts. If Africa starts making airplane parts from elephant tusks, under the new rules, we could buy those too. Flight safety is being sacrificed.

Russia already set the world's anti-record for airplane crashes last year. Such tardy decision-making on the part of the relevant agency demonstrates that they do not fully understand how they can save what’s left of Russian aviation. This results from the fact that, over the last 15 years, Russia’s aviation authorities were not in charge of the operational safety of almost all civilian planes due to their foreign registration,” the expert points out.

As Reuters reported in August citing its sources, Russian airlines, including Aeroflot, had started stripping planes for parts to repair other planes because Western sanctions imposed due to the war in Ukraine had made it impossible to procure parts abroad. Western planes make up most of Russia’s aircraft fleet.

In September, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), which is part of the UN system, red-flagged Russia on its safety audit results page due to the dual registration of aircraft leased to Russian airlines.

In October, Russia lost its seat on the ICAO Council. According to the expert The Insider spoke to, “no one will keep a state red-lagged for a low level of flight safety and aircraft flight-worthiness on the council”.

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