"Russia continues to disrespect the fundamental rules of international aviation and to instruct its airlines to work against these rules. I welcome ICAO Council's clear condemnation, which reflects the gravity of Russia's actions" — that’s the stance from the European Commission as pressure mounts on the UN special agency the ‘International Civil Aviation Organisation’ (ICAO) to take further action against Russia amid the ongoing war in Ukraine. European ambassadors to ICAO, and their allies, will soon propose expelling Russia from the decision-making ICAO Council, headquartered in Montreal, Canada.
The European Commission “welcomes the decision by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) to call on the Russian Federation to immediately cease its infractions of international aviation rules, in order to preserve the safety and security of civil aviation”
ICAO was the first UN agency to condemn Russia's invasion of Ukraine. The aviation organisation informed its 193 Member States about Russia's non-respect for crucial international aviation law and will bring the issue to its next general assembly, taking place in the autumn.
The ICAO decision referred to the violation of Ukraine's sovereign airspace in the context of Russia's war of aggression, and to the deliberate and continued violation of several safety requirements in an attempt by the Russian government to circumvent EU sanctions. These actions include illegally double registering in Russia aircraft stolen from leasing companies and permitting Russian airlines to operate these aircraft on international routes without a valid Certificate of Airworthiness, which is the necessary safety certificate.
Adina V?lean, Commissioner responsible for Transport, said: “It is of utmost importance for all countries to defend the international aviation rules-based system, for the safety of passengers and crew. Russia continues to disrespect the fundamental rules of international aviation and instructs its airlines to work against these rules. I welcome the ICAO Council's clear condemnation, which reflects the gravity of the actions undertaken by Russia.”
The ICAO Secretariat has already issued a “Significant Safety Concern” against the Russian Federation in relation to the treatment of the stolen aircraft. The posting of a Significant Safety Concern is a measure that ICAO reserves for only the gravest of violations of international safety rules. Additionally, a ruling by ICAO's governing body, the ICAO Council, was issued and is wider than the issues covered by the “Significant Safety Concern” as it also covers the airspace violations committed by Russia.
ICAO is responsible for helping ensure the safe, global flow of air travel — it’s arguably the guardian of the international civil aviation system and ICAO States and in particular, the individual members of the ICAO Council are expected to respect these rules. The European point of view is quite clear: “An ICAO Council member actively working against these principles puts ICAO's overall credibility at risk”
Josep Borrell, High Representative/Vice-President, said: “The aim of EU sanctions, in addition to all our other actions, is to stop the reckless and inhuman invasion by Russia of Ukraine. In this context, I welcome ICAO's report, which points to another example of Russia's blatant disregard of international rules and standards, putting the lives of people at risk, including Russian citizens.
Earlier this year, Russia passed a law allowing airlines with foreign, leased aircraft to reregister as Russian jets in a bid to ensure Russian airlines hold on to airline jets belonging to European leasing companies. But under international aviation law, Russia cannot unilaterally ‘re-register’ its jets. It didn’t stop Moscow from doing so.
Bermuda’s Civil Aviation Authority was forced to remove all aircraft tied to Russia from its airworthiness registry, explaining “international sanctions on the aviation sector have had a significant impact on the ability to sustain safety oversight on Russian-operated aircraft.” Over 740 Russian aircraft are registered in Bermuda so that Russian airlines avoid Moscow’s heavy import duties. Bermuda’s aviation authority had previously been responsible for ensuring jets in Russia are insured and maintained to confirm their airworthiness.
As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues, sanctions have blocked the importation of essential aircraft spare parts from suppliers including Boeing and Airbus. Airlines rely on a steady flow of spares, and now months into the war, data reveals Russia has been forced to ground some jets to dismantle for spares.
Before the war, Russian airlines, including the national carrier Aeroflot, had 515 jets leased from abroad worth over $10bn. Leasing company AerCap Holdings in Ireland was left most at risk, with many of the 152 aircraft it has leased to Russia feared “essentially gone for good”.
* The author is an aviation analyst. Twitter handle: @AlexInAir