All European Union-based lessors have until March 28 to terminate existing contracts with Russian operators and have begun a frantic scramble to repossess their aircraft.

The package of sanctions imposed by the EU on Russia for its invasion of Ukraine last week contains a blanket ban on all exports related to the aviation industry. The ban covers not just the sales of aircraft and parts but also the provision of any services, including aircraft leasing. While the sanctions forbid making any new deals with immediate effect, companies have been given 30 days to extricate themselves from pre-existing contracts.

The short deadline and the lack of clarity concerning the level of cooperation the Russian authorities and airlines are giving have sparked concerns among lessors.

"The 30 days is going to be really difficult for lessors to figure out how to terminate [contracts]. The bigger issue is how do you repossess that many aircraft in that time?," an industry source told The Financial Times.

The TASS news agency has reported that an unnamed lessor ordered the repossession of three B737-800s operated by Pobeda, the LCC unit of Aeroflot Group. One of the three, VQ-BTC (msn 43662), was detained at Istanbul Airport airport on February 27, 2022. The ch-aviation fleets ownership module shows that the aircraft is owned by Avolon. The other two aircraft owned by the same Irish lessor, VQ-BTD (msn 43664) and VQ-BAW (msn 43666), are currently active on domestic routes.

Anna Podgornaya, the Director General of tour operator Pegas Touristik, told TASS that one of the B777-300(ER)s operated by the tour operator's affiliated carrier, Nordwind Airlines (N4, Moscow Sheremetyevo), was detained at México City International airport. VP-BJP (msn 35299) is owned by Aircastle and remains in Mexico, having flown to the country on a cargo-only service.

ch-aviation research indicates that there are at least two Aeroflot (SU, Moscow Sheremetyevo) aircraft currently parked in Europe and unable to return to Russia due to the blanket airspace closure for Russian aircraft. A321-200 VP-BOE (msn 5755) is currently at Geneva airport and A320-200 VP-BAC (msn 7215) at Amsterdam Schiphol.

AerCap, which is the most exposed lessor as it has over 140 aircraft placed in Russia, said it would cease any leasing activities in the country within the legally-mandated timeframe.

The ch-aviation fleets module indicates that out of 804 tracked non-Russian made aircraft operated in Russia, 643 are on operating leases.

While formally sanctions currently pertain only to European lessors, it is likely that entities from elsewhere in the world will also seek to repossess their aircraft from Russia. Besides the ban on leases as such, the lessors have to contend with difficulties in payments for the largely US Dollar-denominated leases in the face of Russia's expulsion from the SWIFT system and sanctions on individual Russian banks.