The Russia-Ukraine war has the aerospace companies worried as it may disrupt the supply of titanium, a key mineral used in the manufacture of various components of modern aircraft.
Kevin Michaels, managing director of AeroDynamic Advisory, a supply-chain consulting firm, has sounded an alarm by saying that Russian President Putin can shut down the commercial aerospace business if he chooses to do so.
VSMPO-AVISMA Corporation based in Verkhnyaya Salda, Russia, is the world’s largest titanium producer. It supplies 30-35% of the titanium used by the aviation sector globally. Aerospace giants such as Boeing and Airbus are heavily dependent on Russian titanium.
“It’s hard to get accurate numbers. According to The Air Current, they (VSMPO) provide 35% of Boeing’s titanium, 65% of Airbus, and 100% of Embraer,” said Michaels at a supplier conference in February. In the 1950s, when the development of supersonic jets began, aerospace companies started using titanium alloys as the original aluminum steel structure could not meet the new demand.
The Lockheed SR-71 ‘Blackbird’
One of the most notable early applications of titanium was in the Lockheed SR-71 ‘Blackbird’ strategic reconnaissance aircraft, which was used extensively by the US spy agency CIA against the Soviet Union at the peak of the Cold War. The CIA had earlier planned on using Lockheed’s U-2, a relatively slow single-jet engine high altitude reconnaissance aircraft for this purpose, relying on the flawed assessments that the Soviet radar and anti-aircraft missiles were ineffective at higher altitudes of more than 70,000 feet.