For Russians, flying abroad is a difficult and expensive affair | Aviation

When Russian academic Mishaa decided in March to flee his country amid rumors of martial law, his options were limited and costly.

Cut off from Europe due to the European Union’s ban on Russian planes, Mishaa, who comes from the central Russian city of Yekaterinburg, has looked further east, where many former Soviet republics offer Russians visa-free entry.

“I booked a flight to Armenia because I have a lot of Armenian friends, I was sure there would be a community here, and you don’t need a visa,” Mishaa told Al Jazeera, who requested to use a pseudonym. “Armenians generally have a positive opinion of Russians; there are fewer historical tensions than with Georgia, for example.

Mishaa paid 40,000 rubles ($599), far more than usual, for his one-way flight to the Armenian capital Yerevan, a journey of less than four hours.

“When I bought tickets, Russia was still SWIFT, so I could still use my normal bank cards. The price was huge – I paid around 40,000 rubles [$599] for a one-way ticket,” he said. “It’s nonsense, something I would never have done in peacetime. Not everyone can book flights at this price – not everyone has money or a stable job – so it’s also a matter of privilege.

Now working remotely from Yerevan, Mishaa transfers his salary to Armenia using cryptocurrency, but for the most part he survives on the money he managed to take before leaving.

Since Russia launched its war against Ukraine, international travel for Russians has become expensive, difficult and uneven.

Russian planes have been banned from European and North American airspace, while the country’s Boeing and Airbus planes are threatened with repossession by Western leasing companies if they leave the country.

“Russian airlines were forced to ‘steal’ them by the Russian government,” said Viktor Berta, vice president of aviation finance at ACC Aviation in London.

AerCap, the world’s largest leasing company based in Dublin, Ireland, has filed a $3.5 billion insurance claim for more than 100 of its planes stranded in Russia, representing around 5% of the value of its leased aircraft.

Domhnal Slattery, managing director of Dublin-based aircraft leasing company Avolon, said in a quarterly financial report that his company was able to take back four planes earlier this year and will do everything possible to recover another 10 from Russia. . Meanwhile, the company recognized a loss of $304 million to write off the value of 10 planes it may never recover.

Even so, Russian airlines have slowly resumed the path of international operations to countries that will accept flights.

International flights from Russia fell from 1,126 a week when the war in Ukraine began on Feb. 24 to 181 two weeks later, according to FlightRadar24. In the last week of April, international flights were down to 379 for the week. Of these, 103 were destined for Turkey, with most of the rest destined for half a dozen former Soviet republics, including Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan.

INTERACTIVE Where do the Russians fly?

Russian-built Superjets regularly use Sochi as a hub for departures to destinations including Turkey, Egypt and Israel, according to FlightRadar24.

The roughly 500 Western-built planes leased by Russian airlines usually do not leave the country because they could be taken over by Western companies that own them, a Russian aviation expert told Al Jazeera, speaking as covered with anonymity.

However, the expert said Russian airlines own some Western planes and have also repaid the loans on some others so they can be used in service outside of Russia. Russian airlines could also resort to grounding planes to harvest spare parts to fly other planes, he said.

Some older models of Airbus A320s and Boeing 737-800s are used in international service, according to FlightRadar24, although Boeing and Airbus no longer supply spare parts for Russian-based planes. Boeing and Airbus have also halted aircraft deliveries to Russia. Still, Russia’s Aeroflot has managed to keep some Boeing A330s in the air and earlier this month announced the resumption of scheduled flights to New Delhi, which enjoys warm relations with Moscow.

Marina, a 25-year-old Moscow IT professional with a passion for travel, has managed to travel to Sri Lanka, Greece, Cyprus and the UK since the conflict began, although it has been far from be straightforward.

Marina, who asked to use a pseudonym, had planned to visit Sri Lanka with her boyfriend on February 25, the day after Russia launched the invasion.

“At first we didn’t understand, but once we understood we decided to go anyway, so if things got really bad we would stay here,” she told Al Jazeera.

Boeing airplane
Boeing and Airbus, the two largest aircraft suppliers to Russian airlines, have ceased operations in Russia
[File: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg]

While in Sri Lanka, Marina and her partner decided to move to Cyprus, which would require them to go through Moscow.

Marina and her partner booked tickets to Cyprus, via Bulgaria and Greece, the same day Russia was kicked out of the international payment system SWIFT, rendering their bank cards virtually useless. After turning to a friend at an unsanctioned bank for help, the couple managed to withdraw some of their savings. Since then, they have been carrying thousands of dollars in cash.

“At the Greek border they asked us in detail where we would live and how long we would stay,” she said.

“In Athens itself, there were no particular problems, except the impossibility of paying by card and walking around with ten thousand dollars in your pocket in the dodgy neighborhood where we were staying, which was not not funny.”

Mike Stengel of AeroDynamic Advisory, an aerospace industry management consulting firm in Ann Arbor, Michigan, said Russia’s aviation industry could end up like Iran’s, “which has been able to maintain a fleet of Western-built aircraft using certain back-end measures to keep them airborne”.

“Russia has a commercially thriving aerospace industry that still employs hundreds of thousands of people,” Stengel told Al Jazeera.

“It has produced aircraft in the past, so there is a history and an infrastructure to design and produce aircraft engines and aircraft components. skeletal fleet, but they have a lot of the tools needed to make it work for western-built planes to keep flying for decades.

For Russians like Mishaa, who oppose the war in Ukraine, the country’s international isolation is both understandable and troubling.

“The isolation was expected. What did they want? That the whole European community will react modestly? I never believed it,” he said.

“I think the sanctions are fair in general, but of course I care about the economic conditions in my home country: how my parents will live there, my brother, my family. Of course, the sanctions will hit the whole society, but it is a kleptocratic and oligarchic mafia state, and the poor will suffer more.

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