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The Ukraine-Russian Conflict From Commercial Aviation Point of View

Do these nations bring a lot to the civil aviation industry? What implications does it present?

Commercial aviation is one of the first ‘casualties’ of the public sector. If one looks closely, the aviation industry has taken a toll as a victim and a solid ‘weapon’ against the invasion. Image by the author.

The ongoing Ukraine-Russian conflict brings what would be the worst global dispute since World War II. The invasion not only affected the region’s neighborhood countries but also globally. It brings harm more than anything to the everyday economic spectrum, including aviation.

Somehow, commercial aviation indicates some kind of measurement of the country’s stability, economy, perspective, etc. And this is no exception.

The aviation industry barely recovers, if not, still in red from the pandemic-related downturn. The year 2022 looks promising for the industry to stretch up some muscle flying in and out of most major international cities carrying relatives, students, visitors, and corporate executives but hampered by the invasion. The conflict brings what already depresses-industry into a deeper crisis.

What could this major event lead to? How can the general flying public understand the consequences from the commercial aviation point of view? Where do Russia and Ukraine are placed within the aviation world?

The Significance…

The two countries are admittedly crucial for commercial aviation judging from their respective contribution. For decades, nations around the globe working hand in hand in harmonizing the rhythm to build what we called the aviation industry today.

Breaking the immense job into divisions of A to Z is the solution: from manufacturing to maintenance, along with insurance and supplying raw materials. It cannot be done by just one or two organizations alone.

For Ukraine, it is where the company of one of the primary players in transporting goods and cargo is based, the Antonov. The largest and most recognizable airliner with its six powerplants is designed to carry oversize and heavy equipment, while at the same time lifting up the spirit of the aviation community throughout the world.

Yep, I’m talking about the AN-225 alright.

The same goes for its siblings, the An-124s are a bit smaller compare to An-225 albeit much larger than ordinary cargo aircraft. Both of these types are crucial in transporting ad-hoc large cargo comprising turbines, trains, helicopters, and oddly dimensions equipment in the energy industry efficiently and effectively.

As we look east of Ukraine, Russia holds the importance of its airspace. The larger the country means the larger its airspace. For airlines to fly in one’s airspace, they must get permission from the nation's airspace controller. The permit is known as a flight plan.

Russia situates between Asia and Europe. Therefore, many long-haul routes between North Asia ( Japan, South Korea ) and Europe flew right above the massive land of Russia. The same can be said for flights from the US to India and occasionally from the US to China.

The right to overfly Russia is crucial for airlines that fly between these routes as it takes the shortest time to reach the destination, also known as the great circle route.

Not to forget, Russian air carriers have a foothold in Airbus and Boeing aircraft orders. Together, they make up a big customer for both manufacturers simply because of the large domestic and international passengers carried. The Russian market is quite large with hundreds of in-service airliners and orders from the Western manufacturer, predominantly through leasing companies.

Russia’s biggest airline, Aeroflot for instance has a total of 187 aircraft consisting of Airbus and Boeing. This does not include other airlines’ fleets.

These two countries have shaped the network of what has been a friendly civil aviation community and painted a picture of how crucial their respective roles are, whether directly or indirectly.

The Heavy Toll

Unfortunately, the ongoing conflict between these countries brings havoc and unprecedented disruption to this modern aviation. For a better illustration of the conflict’s impact on the aviation industry, the instances below might give some head up.

  • Ukraine

News about the destroyed AN-225 spread like wildfire. The outcome is not only felt within the aviation community but also in global logistics. Ukraine is where the manufacturer of the Antonov situates as does its maintenance and spare parts needed to keep the other ANs aloft. Although slightly smaller, the aircraft dimension and its cargo volume do dwarf most freighter of its Western counterparts.

The destroyed one-and-only AN-225 at Gostomel Airport. Image from Russian TV.

The AN-124s are grounded or will be as maintenance activities bring to a halt, while the spares and components are harder to purchase, moreover, the location is under attack. As a result, it gives a logistical nightmare for oversize cargo shipments and air freighters.

This chain of events eventually affects the supply-demand system, decreasing logistical capabilities while demand for goods rises. It brings fresh challenges to cater to demand amid the pandemic-related consequences on human purchasing behavior. Not to forget the acute chaos it brings for transporting urgently required oversize cargo shipments, mostly from the energy and construction sectors such as turbines, oil drilling equipment, etc.

Wonder why the next biggest freighter aircraft, the Boeing 747F cannot take most of the spillover? Simply because it cannot handle such a monstrous load as its design as two decks. Both Antonov models have a single deck, which means gigantic cargo can load straight through the front end. The process makes sort of the aircraft is swallowing its lunch.

Shipping on a large vessel? Surely by now, multiple headlines of severely congested ports in some parts of the world came through one of the media’s timelines. Besides that, it takes a longer lead time to reach a destination, probably not getting the attraction for some firms.

  • Russia

The significance of Russian airspace cannot emphasize enough. The highway corridor for routes particularly between North Asia and Europe is right above it.

Airlines are taking the toll of flying longer routes further south, complicating the schedule and timing of the aircraft and crews. Longer routes obviously require more fuel, which has been and always will be the airlines’ worst enemy, especially when the fuel price increases.

An unusually long route was taken by Japan Airlines flight from Tokyo-Haneda to London Heathrow airport. The flight flew east to fly right above Alaska and Greenland, then across the Atlantic Ocean. It adds a whopping three hours into the journey. Image by Flightradar24.
The images show the common route flown before the invasion. The flight flew right above Russia on the way to London from Tokyo. Screenshot by the author.

Typical key business routes suddenly are loss-making. In a worst-case scenario, it may lead some airlines to drop the routes that aren’t sustainable to be operated in the longer run.

As Russia continues to invade Ukraine, more or less all Western countries are imposing sanctions on Russian companies. It is no exception when it comes to aviation. They are not allowing Russian and Russian-related air operator certificates (AOC) from operating through, taking off, and landing on their territory. AOC is a legal certificate allowing aircraft operators to operate. It is the worst nightmare for AirBridge Cargo (ABC).

The Russian air freighter operator cannot continue to operate because of the sanction and closed airspace. Even if it could fly to other countries, the sanction will be virtually impossible for them to make transactions for fuels, airport fees, and everything.

ABC is considered a large cargo carrier, operating 17 Boeing 747F and one 777F connecting continent to continent. It is a major blow to air cargo logistics that have seen a plunge in air capacity.

Further declining capacity will severely disrupt the air freighter market while the existing cargo route is re-routed to avoid Russian airspace. Some might even take a transit, in the Middle East, for example, further impacting the already crunched freighter network.

Bad news for us consumers judging from the increasing cost and delayed shipment. All these bits and pieces form a pile of logistical challenges ahead.

On another note, aside from having crucial airspace and being quite an important market for both Airbus and Boeing, Russia is primarily an exporter of aviation-grade titanium. VSMPO-Avisma has the honor of supplying a healthy percentage of Boeing and Airbus’ reliance on those strong yet lighter metals. More than a quarter of Boeing’s demand for titanium comes from the company.

Titanium is one of the elements joining other types of metal in manufacturing major components and sub-components for the aircraft, typically for the landing gear.

The aircraft manufacturers will feel the pressure to procure enough titanium for their inventory. Stockpiling may have been initially thought of as part of their initiative to countermeasure it. But the abrupt and large-scale sanction plus reciprocal action from the Kremlin to ban the export of its products might derail the plan.

Aviation is Not Alone

Pointing out the two events that are happening currently, it is safe to say that the civil aviation industry is instantly hitting the emergency brake yet is extremely slow to gain momentum once a global crisis emerges.

It is vulnerable to outside factors that could change the ever-changing environment by 180 degrees. The industry has long shown the history of working hand in hand brings prosperity which eventually leads to what we are witnessing before the conflict.

The explanation above doesn’t do justice to what the two countries, Russia and Ukraine, have contributed to air transport. Again, it testifies the world’s dependency on each other from supplying raw materials, manufacturing the parts, fulfilling the idea, maintaining the fleet, overseeing the legislation, getting the bilateral agreement, and many more.

Once the chain has broken, there is probably no fastener to fix it, and even if it did, the chain might take a hefty amount of time to get to normal strength.

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