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I have just read the news that the Russian flag carrier Aeroflot has deactivated the brakes on nine of its aircraft. Not to dismiss the journalistic talent behind these reports, but could it be that this is one of those cases where a journalist picks one issue and blows it out of proportion to create a shocking story? Alternatively, is this a somewhat viable approach to fly when spare parts for the aircraft are not easily available?

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    $\begingroup$ @RTO: maybe in Putin's Russia you cannot say no to some requests. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 7, 2023 at 17:17
  • $\begingroup$ The article has this update: "Aerotime apparently translated the Moscow Times story and some associated memos from Aeroflot and reported the planes are allowed to fly with the deactivated brakes for up to 10 days, but it’s not clear what will happen when the time is up. It’s an accepted practise to deactivate the brakes on one or more wheels on multi-wheel trucks but it’s not clear the extent to which Aerflot is doing it" $\endgroup$
    – Pilothead
    Commented Aug 8, 2023 at 11:39
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    $\begingroup$ Can you link to where you read this news please ? $\endgroup$
    – Criggie
    Commented Aug 9, 2023 at 3:17
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    $\begingroup$ This is just a wild misinterpretation / mistranslation. $\endgroup$
    – Fattie
    Commented Aug 9, 2023 at 22:26

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The Aeroflot warning, on which the article is based, states:

screenshot from employee-only site

The exact translation of the message's title is: "Safety culture (braking with a deactivated brake)". With this wording, "brake" can not be a substitute for "brake or brakes", it would've been explicit.

The message says "Our crew has asked to warn their colleagues about flying with a deactivated brake. When braking, the plane might tend away from the runway's centerline. You should address this during the approach briefing. Pay special attention with wet runways and side winds! The aircraft will tend to turn towards the side where the brakes have not been deactivated."

This last phrase puts a nail in the coffin for the interpretation that there are no brakes - it specifically states that there is a side where none have been deactivated.

It further lists aircraft types which have deactivated brakes, which includes 5 B777s. According to the Boeing 777 Minimum Equipment List, section 32 (page 236), -45-01A:

(M)(O) One per each six-wheel truck may be inoperative provided: a) Associated brake is deactivated with a deactivation assembly, and b) AFM performance decrements for brakes deactivated are applied.

While the advice seems obvious, it's possible that some pilots have expected the plane to automatically match the braking force on both sides, compensating for a deactivated brake, and were caught off guard when it didn't.

The telegram group reacts to the message as obvious, until another airline's pilot says "We had some deactivated brakes too, the MEL permits it. Until we got an anti-skid failure while taking off from a wet runway. Then on CEO's orders we limited the use of this MEL to returning to base only".

It's not clear whether it's connected to a parts shortage. Aeroflot has 178 aircraft and the list has 9 that have an inoperative brake. This is 5%, which is within the norm for a fleet. However, the figure is strangely higher at 20% for the B777. I'm not sure what the typical occurrence rate of an inop brake is for that airframe - would appreciate any comment from 777 drivers.

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    $\begingroup$ Nice find! Thank you for definitively putting the silliness of "they're flying around with no brakes at all!!!!" to bed. $\endgroup$
    – Ralph J
    Commented Aug 8, 2023 at 14:23
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    $\begingroup$ @RalphJ Yeah, landing a 777 with no brakes would probably require a runway 10 or more miles long. And good luck taxiing it. $\endgroup$
    – reirab
    Commented Aug 9, 2023 at 18:08
  • $\begingroup$ The very presence of this notification sort of implies that the condition is much more common than it used to be, and more pilots encounter it in practice. While inactivation of a brake is not so unusual and all pilots must be aware of this possibility, it seems that the prevalence of it in normal times must be much less than 5%. I've seen reports that the situation can be bad enough at times that airlines (not necessarily Aeroflot) must get "creative" and move the inop brake between aircraft, gaining legal time extension every time. $\endgroup$
    – Zeus
    Commented Aug 10, 2023 at 3:12
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    $\begingroup$ @Zeus It's possible, but there's not enough evidence to be sure either way. You rarely hear about the memos that don't make it into a news article. Except for the B777, the prevalence is as expected. I hope someone who flies, maintains or manages 777s chips in - do they generally go through more brakes than most, or is that unusual. $\endgroup$
    – Therac
    Commented Aug 10, 2023 at 5:38
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It is most certainly not legal* or safe for an aircraft to operate with all its brakes disabled. News reports indicate that the aircraft are 5 Boeing 777 and 4 Airbus of various types. They are less clear on whether some of the brakes are disabled (legal under certain circumstances) or all of the brakes are disabled (which is certainly illegal).

A quick glance at the B777 Master Minimum Equipment List (which can be found here using the FAA's search engine) indicates that "One [brake] per each six-wheel truck may be inoperative" given specific conditions. Having two or more brakes in one truck inoperative makes the plane unairworthy. Furthermore, the MMEL does not permit an operator to leave parts permanently inoperative- the brakes are in repair category "C", indicating that the issue is required to be rectified within 10 calendar days.

It's possible that the airliners are being operating legally with the minimum number of brakes required to be airworthy, and that the pilots are simply requested not to use the remaining brakes to prevent wear on the remaining operative ones.

There is a message, reportedly from Aeroflot to its employees, that can be found here. Google translate indicates that its a warning that when the brakes are applied with the brakes deactivated, the plane may pull to one side. Obviously, this doesn't make sense if all the brakes are deactivated! That is a point in favor of the theory that some of the brakes are disabled, but not all of the brakes.

*Under ICAO regulations, anyway. Russia can set whatever regulations it likes within its airspace.

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    $\begingroup$ You're looking at the FAA certification. Russia is not subject to the FAA; they have their own certification regime, the IAC/MAK, which does not have to follow US rules. In fact, European EASA rules differ from the FAA's. For example, there are 737 classics flying and registered in Europe which would be illegal for US registry because they lack fuel tank inerting. $\endgroup$
    – user71659
    Commented Aug 8, 2023 at 0:05
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    $\begingroup$ @user71659 The MMEL is made by the manufacturer and then approved by a national authority. Sure, there might be minor differences, but I don't think anyone seriously thinks that Boeing would produce an MMEL that allows for all the brakes to be inoperative. $\endgroup$
    – Chris
    Commented Aug 8, 2023 at 0:21
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    $\begingroup$ @Chris That argument is nonsensical: if a plane operated without brakes it would end up in a ditch the first taxiway intersection it comes to. The FAA MMEL for a 737 says you have to fix the fuel tank inerting in 10 days due to the risk of a fuel tank explosion. EASA planes don't even have to have one installed. The fact that IAC-MAK/CIS planes can have significantly different certification standards is absolutely nothing special. $\endgroup$
    – user71659
    Commented Aug 8, 2023 at 4:08
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    $\begingroup$ @user71659 "If a plane operated without brakes it would end up in a ditch the first taxiway intersection it comes to." So we're in agreement that there is absolutely no way that any form of the MMEL that Boeing would produce would allow the 777 to be operated with all brakes disabled, right? $\endgroup$
    – Chris
    Commented Aug 8, 2023 at 4:14
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    $\begingroup$ @Chris All brakes inop is absurd. However, the linked article doesn't claim that. It claims some brakes inop, which you state is valid to a certain degree under FAA MMEL. The question here is to see what the IAC-MAK MMEL says. For all you know, it could say no brakes inop because it snows in Russia. $\endgroup$
    – user71659
    Commented Aug 8, 2023 at 4:18
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There's no reason to believe this to be untrue, it is reported in the Moscow Times which is a Russian language web publication - somewhat ruling out "foreign" propaganda.

So, as of July 31, nine Aeroflot aircraft were flying with deactivated brakes. Among them are five Boeing 777s, two Airbus A321s and one A320 each with an A330.

Airlines resort to such measures when it is not possible to immediately replace the brake due to a malfunction or wear of the disc to the permitted limits. At the same time, it is allowed to fly with a refusal for no more than ten days, according to safety instructions.

Note that it does not say all brakes, it is quite possible they're operating without some of the brakes completely within the manufacturers recommendations for when a part is (temporarily) unavailable.

This is all part of an ongoing problem where sanctions due to the war in Ukraine have severely limited Russia's ability to import spare parts for their western-built fleets.

The only viable alternative, and one which it has been practicing for well over a year now is to cannibalize it's fleet to keep a certain number flying safely.

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    $\begingroup$ @Jamiec The Moscow Times is banned in Russia and headquartered in the Netherlands, I'm sure it can be called "foreign" $\endgroup$
    – Gypaets
    Commented Aug 7, 2023 at 20:46
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    $\begingroup$ I suspect the quote makes better sense if one infers that "flying with deactivated brakes" actually means "flying with {a small but non-zero number of wheels with} deactivated brakes" and not "flying with {all brakes on all wheels} deactivated". My first take on the quote was the latter, yielding the reaction that the story was clearly nonsense. On reflection, I could see the former understanding being consistent with the text too. $\endgroup$
    – Ralph J
    Commented Aug 7, 2023 at 21:09
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    $\begingroup$ You mean a journalist got a detail about aviation wrong? Possibly not the first time... Or perhaps they deactivated the autobrakes on some number of aircraft (not the anti-skid -- that's dry-runway only and big performance penalties for a 737, and probably similar or worse for bigger jets), and the difference between "brakes" and "autobrakes" got lost during the journalism. $\endgroup$
    – Ralph J
    Commented Aug 8, 2023 at 1:09

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