Boeing stops buying Russian titanium, Airbus continues

Despite previous statements, Boeing has stopped buying titanium from Russian suppliers. Airbus is not following Boeing’s lead – yet.

Since the signing of the memorandum of understanding between Boeing and VSMPO-AVISMA last November in Dubai. Photo: VSMPO-AVISMA

At the Dubai Airshow last November, Boeing and VSMPO-AVISMA signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU). VSMPO-AVISMA is a Russian supplier of titanium products. The MoU was not really about a new contract between the two companies. She merely indicated that Boeing would continue to buy most of its titanium from the Russian supplier.

A lot has happened since November, of course. But it’s worth pointing out that Boeing and Airbus do not issue press releases on all supplier contracts. So this announcement (again – not about a contract) was a bit unusual. It seems the writing was on the wall long before Russia invaded Ukraine. In reality, Boeing and Airbus have been worried about titanium since the Russian annexation of Crimea.

Boeing 787

No sanctions on titanium

Neither the European Union nor the United States has yet imposed sanctions on VSMPO-AVISMA or other Russian titanium producers. Nevertheless, Boeing announced on Monday March 7 that it would no longer buy titanium from Russian suppliers. The aircraft manufacturer made the following statement:

Our inventory and diversity of titanium sources provide ample supply for aircraft production, and we will continue to take the right steps to ensure long-term continuity.

Boeing stops buying Russian titanium, Airbus continues

Detail of a main landing gear strut of an Airbus A350. Photo: Saffron

As we saw earlier, Boeing previously relied on VSMPO-AVISMA for around 35% of its titanium requirements. Airbus figures are higher. Different sources place its Russian titanium requirements between 50% and 65% of the total. These figures include titanium sourced from Hydromash, another Russian supplier. Both Airbus and Boeing obtain much of this Russian titanium through their suppliers. Safran uses titanium for aircraft landing gear.

Despite the sanctions already in place, companies in Europe and the United States are still buying essential supplies from Russia. Europe continues to receive Russian natural gas, for example. Titanium is a key industrial resource, with countries resisting sanctions against it, for now. Beyond airliners, Airbus uses titanium from Russia for at least two types of helicopters.

Airbus uses Russian titanium in the NH-90 helicopter. Photo: Airbus

Boeing, Russian titanium and past production issues

As for Boeing, there may be a reason why it can cut off its supply of Russian titanium right now. Beyond its lesser reliance on Russia for hardware, other production issues could benefit Boeing in this regard. In general, it is the newer aircraft models that use titanium more. Of Boeing’s current lineup, the 787 and 777X would need the hardware the most.

But its production problems with those two models, along with the Covid-induced reduction in widebody demand, meant that Boeing unwittingly found itself with stocks of parts it could not fit into planes. Older models like the 767 and 737 (including the MAX) use less titanium. Conversely, Airbus A350 production may have slowed during the pandemic, but it has not stopped. The modern and highly demanded A220 also incorporates titanium into its manufacture.

Boeing stops buying Russian titanium, Airbus continues

Photo: Boeing

Beyond Boeing and Airbus, Embraer relies on Russian titanium for 100% of its needs. So far, Russia has not indicated that it intends to stop supplying the equipment to any of its customers. VSMPO-AVISMA said it regretted Boeing’s decision. A company representative said it would divert production and sales to other customers.

The Russian company also indicates that it had anticipated such a step. However, Boeing and VSMPO-AVISMA also have/had a joint venture in the country, for the manufacture of titanium forgings. It is unclear how easily the Russian titanium producer can replace Boeing in this regard.

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