Boeing Co. confirms it has stopped its titanium purchases from VSMPO-Avisma Corp., the Russian mining and metallurgical products firm that controls nearly 25% of the world’s titanium metal and alloys market. Rival jet-builder Airbus SE so far continued to buy titanium from the Russian supplier, though both companies have suspended their direct activities in Russia following that country’s invasion of Ukraine.
While the Russian commercial aviation market is not as significant as some others are to the growth outlook for either Boeing or Airbus, a prolonged disruption could threaten raw material supplies from that country and undermine the current recovery in new aircraft demand. This recovery follows the sudden disruption in demand due to the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, which hampered leisure and business travel and altered future demand forecasts through 2021.
For Boeing, the recovery of demand for its 737 MAX program has been especially important, as that narrow-body series serves the largest growth segment in commercial air travel.
Earlier this week the two aircraft builders suspended their parts supply and maintenance support programs for Russian airlines, which will impact the availability of more than 700 jets in commercial service in that country. Boeing also has suspended its own operations in the region, including a training center near Moscow.
The effects of the ongoing conflict on critical supplies of titanium is more difficult to forecast. Titanium offers a very high strength-to-weight ratio as well as formability and heat resistance, making it a primary resource in aircraft design and manufacturing. It’s used in airframe structures, engines, and numerous critical components that include landing gear, fasteners, springs, and pneumatic tubes.
Reportedly, Boeing draws about one-third of its titanium needs from Russian suppliers. Published sources indicate the OEM has been stockpiling titanium supplies for several months, leading CEO Dave Calhoun to remark during a January call that its titanium availability is secure “for quite a while, but not forever.”
It’s not clear how any shortage of titanium may affect Boeing’s or Airbus’ major system and component suppliers – including major engine builders, and their own certified suppliers.