Turkey tightens restrictions on Russian aircraft without major disruptions

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Some of Turkey’s largest airport ground handling firms stopped providing services to western-made aircraft owned by Russian airlines earlier this month, multiple sources told Middle East Eye.

The sources, who are inside the aviation industry and are familiar with the issue, said that Havas, the largest ground service provider in Turkey, as well as Turkish Ground Services (TGS), stopped serving the Boeing and European Airbus aircraft of the United States used by Russian companies. .

Havas sent a letter in January to warn Russian businesses that they may have to take action in line with US sanctions against Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine.

TAV Airports, which operates 90 airports in 29 countries and owns Havas, provides aircraft services at Istanbul, Ankara and Antalya airports, among others. Havas also owns 50 percent of TGS shares.

The sources expect that some major Turkish companies will stop providing refueling services to Russian airlines.

US officials warned Turkish authorities and the private sector in January that Turkish citizens risked jail time, fines and loss of export privileges if they provide services such as refueling and spare parts for US aircraft United is flying to Turkey from Russia and Belarus.

According to the US sanctions, it is forbidden to provide maintenance services to aircraft bound for Russia or Belarus with more than 25 percent of the technology of US origin.

‘Havas and others have stopped serving, but there are other small companies that still provide services to them’

– Aviation industry source

The list includes 170 aircraft belonging to Russian airlines, including Aeroflot, Rossii, S7, Utair Airlines, Red Wings, Nordwind, and Yamal, as well as the Belarusian airline Bealavia.

Turkish news site AirportHaber reported that some 44 planes were denied refueling and maintenance service as of March 14, including 15 belonging to Aeroflot.

However, Aeroflot said it was flying to Turkish cities “in the normal way, according to schedule, within the declared flight program”.

MEE sources said there was no total ban on Russian planes, as each ground service and maintenance company decides which aircraft to serve.

“The type of aircraft and whether there are humanitarian grounds to claim exemptions play a role in the decision,” said an industry source. “Havas and others have stopped serving, but there are other smaller companies that still provide services to them.”

Russian newspaper Kommersant reported last week that only two refueling planes, which eventually returned to Russia, were rejected. The newspaper reported that two S7 aircraft returned safely from Antalya and Istanbul on March 16.

On the same day, according to Flightradar24, Pegas Fly Boeing-777 Icarus had to be diverted from Istanbul for refueling in Sochi, after which the plane continued its flight to Moscow.

Also on March 14, two Aeroflot aircraft flew to Istanbul from St. Petersburg and Yekaterinburg and returned without making intermediate stops for refueling.

Russian media have previously said that Sochi could be a refueling option for Russian aircraft if they are unable to get the service in Turkish airports.

MEE sources said they expect that Fugo, one of the smaller Turkish ground service companies, could start serving approved Russian aircraft.

MEE sent repeated inquiries to Fugo officials about the matter but received no response by the time of publication. Fugo already offers services to five Russian airlines such as Aeroflot at Antalya airport, according to open source data.

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Turkey is a major tourist destination for Russians, who are increasingly moving to the country after the war in Ukraine to escape western sanctions and conscription.

Despite technical issues, on March 13 Aeroflot announced its intention to open direct flights to Antalya from Samara, Nizhny Novgorod and Ufa at the end of April.

The Russian Federal Air Transport Agency said on Friday that it held a meeting with its Turkish counterparts in Ankara, discussing the operational issues ahead of the summer, including the issue of refueling Russian aircraft in Turkey.

“During the consultations, it was noted that the issue of operating flights of Russian and Turkish airlines is under the continued control of the aviation authorities of both countries,” the statement said.

“Ground handling for Russian airlines flights scheduled for the 2023 IATA summer season will be provided regularly at the airports of the Republic of Turkey in accordance with previously concluded commercial agreements.”

Two Western diplomats told MEE that Turkey was cracking down on circumventing Russian sanctions when Turkish officials stressed them.

“But they continued to turn a blind eye to many other ways that Russians come up with in exchange for sanctions,” one of them said.

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