Russian Transport Ministry Sees Sharp Drop in Air Traffic by 2025

 - May 6, 2022, 12:04 PM
An Airbus A320 (left) and a Boeing 737-800 in Aeroflot colors taxi at Moscow Sheremetyevo Airport. (Photo: Vladimir Karnozov)

Russia’s airline industry will experience between a 24 and 48 percent drop in passenger traffic over the next four years, and, at best, restore traffic to 2021 levels no earlier than 2030, according to a grim prognosis in a recently released draft report from Russia’s Ministry for Transportation.

The document, titled Comprehensive Program for Development of the Airline Industry until 2030, follows a governmental meeting in the Kremlin on March 31 devoted to the prospects of the local airline and aircraft manufacturing industries. At the event, Russian President Vladimir Putin challenged his bureaucrats to work out a set of measures aimed at supporting the national air transportation system amid severe economic sanctions imposed on Moscow by the U.S. and European Union (EU) as punishment for the invasion of Ukraine.

In reply, the Ministry for Transportation suggests allocating 331.4 billion roubles ($5 billion) by 2025 and another 296 billion roubles by 2030. The total includes 100 billion roubles for support of passenger operations by airlines and airports, plus 29.3 billion roubles in subsidies for passenger transportation between the European and Far East territories of the country, and, finally, 32 billion roubles for the purchase of flight simulators and training airplanes.

The Kremlin considers the allocations necessary to keep the national air transportation system running even if economic sanctions result in the grounding of many imported aircraft.

The calculations assume that the relations between Moscow and the West will remain cold. Consequently, the local carriers will experience problems with keeping their Airbus and Boeing airliners flying. The aircraft manufacturers in U.S. and EU and their approved maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO) centers will not likely render any meaningful support to airplanes exported into Russia.

The ministry advises airlines to adjust their business models accordingly and, together with the local manufacturers and MRO specialists, keep their fleets intact without the involvement of the West.

According to the ministry, the Russian civil fleet now consists of 1,287 passenger, cargo, and general aviation airplanes, of which 1,140 appear in the national register. They include 470 airplanes made in Russia and the former Soviet bloc, mostly small-capacity commuter and regional turboprops.

Other open sources estimate the number of passengers jets with 50 seats and above at 714 as of late 2021, including nearly 300 Airbus, 236 Boeing, 23 Embraer, and several Bombardier CRJ100/200 aircraft, plus 136 Russian-designed Irkut SSJ100s, which carry numerous Western components. Together, they generate more than 90 percent of the country’s passenger traffic.

The report’s authors base their assumptions on a forecast that operators will cannibalize about one-third of the current Airbus and Boeing fleet for parts to keep the rest flying. The nation’s fleet of imported jets will fall to 427 in 2025, and, consequently, traffic will drop to 76.3 million passengers. In 2030, only 208 foreign jets will remain operational, said the report, but traffic might return to the pre-crisis level thanks to a sharp increase in shipments of local designs.

Apart from that assumption, the drafters also offer a “pessimistic scenario” in which airlines disassemble half of the imported jetliners for parts by 2025 if they cannot find a way to procure spares from the outside world. Worse, the domestic industry will appear unable to reverse-engineer the necessary items and produce them at home. As a result, the foreign jetliner fleet will fall to 298 by 2025 (and to nearly nothing by 2030) and traffic will drop to 58.2 million passengers.

The Ministry for Transportation hopes that, by 2030, local manufacturers will manage to assemble 1,000 new passenger aircraft of all classes. In that case, the national fleet will rise from between 870 and 999 airplanes in 2025 to between 1,556 and 1,600 in 2030.