When economic crisis and political sanctions in 2015-16 depressed passenger traffic in Russia, some foreign carriers suspended services in the country and Russian airlines cut their fleets, but the resulting isolation turned out to be beneficial for Russian MRO providers. The weak ruble made them more competitive, and their quick mastery of new technologies enabled them to attract contracts previously held by foreign competitors.
Risto Maetos, chief operating officer of Estonia-based Magnetic MRO, tells Inside MRO that his company stopped working with Russian clients two years ago because of the unfavorable political environment. Previously, it had served Russia’s largest carriers—such as Aeroflot, UTair and Rossiya—as well as second-tier airlines Yakitia and Alrosa. To fill the gap, the Estonian provider turned to the West, finding new clients among European carriers such as EasyJet and Thomas Cook, Maetos says. Nevertheless, Magnetic MRO plans to return to Russia in 2017, even though Maetos does not initially expect many orders because the local MRO providers have become much stronger in the past two years.
Russian MROs have been quick to build expertise and expand their range of services. One of the largest domestic specialists in the field, Engineering Holding, pioneered by opening the first independent CFM56-5B/7B engine workshop in partnership with Swiss-based SR Technics. It is located at the facility of S7 Engineering, the holding’s subsidiary in Moscow’s Domodedovo Airport and has the capacity to repair 23 engines per year.
S7 Engineering expanded its European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) Part 145 certificate in May, and in June the workshop fulfilled its first order: an on-wing replacement of the CFM56-5B accessory gearbox on an S7 Airlines Airbus A320.
Besides the technical and training support provided by SR Technics, S7 Engineering used the experience and personnel of the bankrupted Transaero, once the country’s second-largest airline, to service CFM56-7B engines at its Vnukovo facilities in 2015.
Engineering Holding also has expanded the scope of its repairs on Western-built aircraft. For instance, it conducted its first S4C-Check heavy check of a Western-built cargo plane, a Boeing 757-200PCF, at its Sibir Technics subsidiary in Novosibirsk. The freighter is operated by Russia’s Yakutia Airlines on behalf of transport company Aero-Cargo. HAECO in China completed the previous heavy check on the airframe.
Mikhail Trifonov, Aero-Cargo deputy CEO for maintenance, says some of Sibir Technics’ competencies are more advanced than those of the Chinese specialist, including structural repair and painting services. Sibir Technics also has the advantages of being EASA-certified and located at Novosibirsk Tolmachevo Airport, from which many airlines operate.
Sibir Technics has worked with Boeing 757 passenger versions, while its sister company, S7 Engineering, repaired a Boeing 737 freighter for Russia’s Atran cargo airline in Domodedovo.
Russian MRO providers have increased their presence in the business aviation sector as well. In early September, Vostok Technical Service Jets (VTS Jets) signed an agreement with Lufthansa Bombardier Aviation Services (LBAS) to set up a maintenance center for Bombardier business jets. It will be based at VTS Jets’ home base in Russia’s largest FBO, Vnukovo-3, and provide full line-maintenance, troubleshooting and aircraft-on-ground services for Bombardier jets operated in Russia and the former Soviet republics.
VTS Jets is now certified by Aruba, Bermuda, the Cayman Islands, EASA and Qatar to service Bombardier Global Series and the Challenger 300/350/604/605/850. The company plans to expand its type-rating coverage with other Bombardier business jet models and obtain Russian national approval soon.
“With annual traffic of more than 22,000 flight hours in 2015, Russia is the third-biggest market for Bombardier business jets in [Europe, the Middle East and Africa], while Vnukovo is the No. 1 airport, with over 4,400 departures of Bombardier jets in the same period,” says Andrey Akopov, VTS Jets CEO.
The Russian market also is attracting Dassault Aviation, which is looking for a local partner, despite the current stagnation. The manufacturer is in talks with Gazpromavia, an airline subsidiary of Russia’s gas monopoly Gazprom about setting up an authorized maintenance center that could provide base maintenance services for third-party clients in the region.
Dassault is meanwhile building up support for Russian customers. Eloi Dufour, director of customer relations and field services, tells Inside MRO the company is increasing spare parts numbers at its warehouse in Vnukovo, aiming to complete the process in 2017, when the spares stock value will reach $1 million. This will ease the spares distribution in Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States. The spares are also used by Vnukovo-3-based Dassault Falcon Services, which provided line maintenance for locally operated and transit Falcon business jets.