The Russian government has granted S7 Airlines, the largest private airline in Russia, to return its fleet of two Boeing 737 Max jets to their foreign lessors. The Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin signed off on a decree a few days ago, allowing S7 Group to hand over two Max aircraft back to their owners. Globus Airlines, a subsidiary of S7Group, has not been able to operate its two western aircraft due to ongoing sanctions against the Russian Federation in response to its military invasion of Ukraine.
A few months ago, two Russian airlines (one of them is S7 Airlines) applied to the Ministry of Transport, requesting to return two Boeing 737-8 Max’s to the international lessors citing a lack of type certification in Russia, and accordingly, the impossibility of its operation. S7 Airlines has two Max jets: VQ-BGV registered B737 Max 8 and VQ-BGW registered B737 Max 8 belonging to Aviation Capital Group (ACG) and Air Lease Corporation (ALC), respectively. Both are top US leasing firms based in California.
The former B737 Max joined the S7fleet on October 10, 2018, and the latter one arrived 15 days later, on October 25, 2018. In light of the worldwide grounding of Max jets following fatal crashes in Ethiopia and Indonesia, both jets have been in storage since April 2019. Although Russia approved 737 Max flights in July, it was applicable only to those countries included on the list of Russia’s ‘friendly’ states. The Russian Aeronautical Information Center issued a NOTAM forbidding carriers from ‘unfriendly’ states to fly in Russia. The lack of certification at first and now low demand due to ongoing restrictions has contributed to S7 Airlines’ B737 groundings since April 2019.
Responding to the carrier’s request, the Russian authorities have finally granted a special permit to S7 to transfer two aircraft through a third country. The Russian Ministry of Transport formed a special commission to approve export permits for two western jets and released a document which states that the carrier can conduct the transfer of VQ-BGV and VQ-BGW from the territory of Russia via a third-party nation, reported to Turkey, until December 31, 2022. According to rules, Russian airlines must receive a regulatory go-ahead before returning the leased aircraft to overseas owners.
Vitaly Savelyev, the Russian transport minister, stated that the reason for giving the all-clear to return the aircraft was due to a lack of opportunity for S7 to receive spare parts and support for these jets. The Siberian-based carrier is the airline in Russia to own a fleet of 737 max airliners. Although S7 Group placed an order for 10 737 Max aircraft, it took delivery of only two of them.
In the wake of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, numerous countries, including the US, the UK, Canada, and EU member nations, etc., have closed their airspace to Russian aircraft and flights. Russia’s Federal Air Transport Agency has also reiterated by banning airlines from unfriendly countries from entering its airspace. The conflict-related sanctions have severely impacted civilian flight operations, resulting in flight cancellations and costly detours for the carriers, which are still hamstrung by the pandemic effect.
S7 Airlines is the second-largest carrier in Russia behind Aeroflot, headquartered in Ob, Novosibirsk Oblast. The carrier operates a fleet of 104 aircraft to an extensive network of 150 destinations within Russia and internationally throughout Europe and Asia. The fleet of the S7 consists of a handful of Embraer 170 regional jets, 17 Boeing 737-800, 2 B737-800BCF, and other Airbus A320 family variants.
In light of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, the United States Department of Commerce has issued orders denying export privileges to several Russian carriers, including S7 Airlines. As a part of punitive action, it has added 25 Russian aircraft to the list for suspected violation of export regulations, degrading Russian carriers’ ability to operate both US and EU airplanes.
Boeing 737 Max plane
Boeing 737 Max is one of the most controversial aircraft of US airplane maker that wrecked Boeing’s bottom line with a nearly 2-year worldwide grounding of the type following two deadly crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia. The FAA gave clearance to fly the aircraft type in November 2020 and was soon followed by Canadian and European authorities. China, one of the largest Boeing markets, lifted the B737 Max grounding in early December. Russia has lifted the ban only for selected nations to fly Max aircraft in its airspace.