Unrealized potential of phased out Soviet-era aircraft in the emerging markets

Dec 20th, 2012

In 2011 the Russian Ministry of Transport introduced new requirements for commercial aircraft, according to which all the soviet-era Yak-40s, Tu-134s and An-24s with no Terrain Awareness Warning System (TAWS) installed had to be grounded. Additionally, for quite a while now operators from Russia and the CIS have been continuously phasing out their old and inefficient Soviet airplanes. For instance, in 2004 Uzbekistan Airways was still operating approx. 30 Il, Tu, Yak and An airplanes, but by 2012 the airline had completely renewed its fleet with Western-built aircraft. However, despite the on-going developments, the Soviet-era aircraft are still being widely operated by operators in the emerging markets. Unfortunately, the aftermarket support of the aircraft is becoming more and more challenging, as the number of relevant MROs and part suppliers is diminishing along with the Soviet fleet itself.

‘Many aircraft types, designed back in the USSR, are still quite popular in Latin America, Asia Pacific, Africa, and the CIS. Even in Europe and North America! Of course, the CIS is ‘the natural habitat’ for Soviet-type aircraft, with over 1500 airplanes in the region. At the same time, there are over 200 such airplanes in Africa and about 100 in Latin America and the Caribbean. These are the main markets which have historically used and still use Soviet-type aircraft,’ comments Zilvinas Sadauskas, the CEO of Locatory.com

Soviet type aircraft fleet in regions by type
Table 1. Soviet type aircraft fleet in regions by type; source: Ascend

However, the number of aircraft-in-use is constantly decreasing. Following the trend, the number of authorized MRO centres is also diminishing. Already today they are primarily only located in Russia. With the manufacturers to seize the production, the repair or component change for such aircraft like Tu-134 or An-24 is becoming an increasingly difficult challenge. While phasing out their Soviet aircraft, it appears that many Russian operators are just selling out the airplanes for scrap. However, should airlines invest into tearing down those aircraft into separate components for their future realization in other regions, this may become a profitable path for the aging generation of the Soviet aircraft.

‘It is believed that in 5 years’ time Russian operators will completely phase out its entire previous generation non-Western fleet. And though aircraft tear down is a relatively new business for local companies, dismantling and restoring components for Soviet-era aircraft should definitely pay off, as many operators outside Russia are continuing with the utilization of the aircraft, maintaining the demand for the inventory high. For instance, we have been observing a rising demand on spare parts for the multi-purpose strategic airlifter Il-76 from Asian countries, particularly India and Pakistan. Meanwhile in the CIS there are almost 500 of the aircraft, some of which are uselessly stored,’ said the CEO of Locatory.com.

Il-76 fleet in the CIS region
Table 2. Il-76 fleet in the CIS region; source: Ascend

Unfortunately, since the collapse of the Soviet Union the trade connections between the Russian market players and their counterparts in the Middle East, Africa and Latin America have completely eroded. For that reason it is high time that the emerging markets attempt to re-establish their once firm ties in order to jointly enhance the development of the aviation and its safety. In the era of new technologies and E-communication it is essential for the emerging markets to open themselves to such Internet-based platforms like Locatory.com, which are specifically developed to connect aviation companies from Mexico, India, Angola, Ukraine or any other country,’ concluded the CEO of Locatory.com.

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