The Russian government has asked local airlines to consider an idea to buy Airbus and Boeing jets operating in the country from their Western lessors using money from the National Welfare Fund (NWF). Russian carriers continue to operate about 740 regional and commercial jets owned by foreign lessors but forcefully kept in the country at the behest of the Kremlin.
The Ministry of Transport has distributed a letter on this topic to the top 20 carriers. Responses from the airlines would help determine the feasibility of the plan.
In March, Transport Minister Vitaly Saveliev approached the Russian government, seeking a decision on whether to buy about 500 foreign-made aircraft worth $20 billion from foreign lessors and banks. At the same time, he acknowledged difficulties with possible transactions due to restrictions on financial operations with Russia imposed by the US and the EU.
The NWF would lend the money at a rate of 1.5 percent for a 15-year term. The airlines will have to repay the loans as a special measure to resolve ongoing disputes with foreign lessors. The Ministry acknowledges the potential difficulties associated with the risks involved and the money transfers if all parties involved agree to the proposed plan.
The ministerial letter also asks airlines to provide their estimates of the residual values of leased aircraft in their fleets and provide opinions on whether it makes sense to buy aircraft older than 20 years.
If the plan comes to fruition, its practical implementation is likely to go no further than 500 aircraft due to restrictions on financial transactions with Russian government and commercial structures imposed by the US, the EU and their allies around the world. The EU has freed European landlords to deal with the Russians only for financial leases signed before the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24. However, Russian airlines have received most Airbus and Boeing aircraft on operating lease terms. They bought only 50 aircraft on finance lease. However, Russian interests hope that Washington and Brussels will consider waivers to resolve the issue.
In a separate move, the Transport Ministry has made “corrections” to its earlier decision on subsidies aimed at covering operational losses of Russian carriers resulting from hostilities in Ukraine.
President Vladimir Putin expressed the need to subsidize domestic carriers in March. About three months later, the ministry selected 32 suitable airlines. After analyzing their responses, the authorities decided to cut the initial budget of 100 billion rubles ($1.63 billion) for the whole of 2022 by about 3 billion rubles for each of the summer months, because the airlines’ losses were less than expected. Aeroflot, which was promised subsidies worth about 50 billion rubles, continues to receive them without correction.
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