Sources familiar with the situation have said that Aeroflot, Russia’s largest airline and flag carrier is “unlikely” to hand back airliners it has leased from Western companies such as AerCap and SMBC Aviation.
Sanctions imposed on the county by the EU mean that lessors have until the 28th March to cancel their lease agreements with Russian carriers but if the carriers refuse to return the aircraft, the companies could potentially lose millions.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has drawn global condemnation and airspace in the EU, UK and North America is closed to all Russian aircraft.
Leasing companies will be attempting to recover their assets but if the carriers refuse, there may be little the lessors can do other than launch legal action to recover the assets or money owed.
Any such move however would destroy trust in Russian carriers with lessors so once sanctions are lifted it would be almost impossible for them to lease new aircraft.
It is likely, particularly in Aeroflots’ case, that a refusal to return aircraft would also be a choice made at the political rather than airline level.
The Russian aviation authority has in fact told airlines not to operate international flights with leased aircraft to prevent them from being seized.
There are approximately 500 leased aircraft in Russia where airlines lease due to high import taxes on purchased aircraft.
Whatever happens, it will certainly be an interesting few weeks for those watching the lucrative aircraft leasing market in the EU!