The Russian invasion of Ukraine has provoked many corporations to unilaterally take action against and cut business ties with the Russian Federation. However, the international aerospace industry relies on titanium to produce aircraft, and Russia is the world’s third-largest producer of the metal.
Airbus and Boeing, the world’s two largest aircraft manufacturers, have taken opposing stances on the use of Russian titanium in production. Boeing has shunned buying any more of the vital resource from Russia. Airbus is holding out until Russian mineral exports are embargoed by government sanction.
Last month, Boeing announced that it was ceasing purchases of Russian titanium. The American manufacturer had noted that it had a large enough titanium stockpile to continue production until the metal could be supplied from elsewhere. Boeing, along with Airbus, had an agreement with VSMPO-AVISMA, the largest titanium producer in the world and a Russian state-owned company.
VSMPO-AVISMA’s parent company is Rostec, Russia’s state-owned defense conglomerate. Rostec, through its subsidiaries (such as Kalashnikov Concern, Mikoyan and Sukhoi), produces almost all of Russia’s military equipment. Despite this link to Russia’s military, VSMPO-AVISMA has remained exempt from American and European sanctions because of titanium’s strategic importance.
Airbus is preparing to operate without Russian titanium but won’t do so unless forced via sanctions. Airbus CEO Guillaume Faury has publicly spoken against a potential Russian titanium embargo. Faury told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung, “It would hardly harm Russia because (titanium) only accounts for a small part of export earnings there. But it would massively damage the entire European aviation industry.”
An embargo would hamper Europe’s ability to manufacture both civil and military aircraft as well as shut down a direct flow of foreign currency to Russia’s arms industry. If Europe’s governments genuinely don’t want Airbus to continue buying Russian titanium, then impose an embargo. Corporations, especially entities that don’t sell products to the general public, are simply going to operate in their best interest.