By Tim Hepher
MUNICH (Reuters) - Airbus will halt its reliance on Russia for titanium supplies within months, a senior executive said on Thursday.
Russia is the largest producer of titanium, a strategic metal prized for its strength relative to its weight. It is used mainly in aircraft engines and landing gear for large planes.
"We are in the process of decoupling from Russia when it comes to titanium. It will be a matter of months not years," Michael Schoellhorn, chief executive Airbus Defence & Space, said.
"I cannot give you a precise date; it is a relatively complex process with certification and everything else that aviation calls for, but it will happen," the former Airbus operations chief told a company sustainability briefing.
The European Union has so far avoided banning Russian commodities other than steel and coal, and titanium remains exempt from restrictions imposed after Russia's invasion of Ukraine, which Moscow calls a special operation.
Airbus has said it is trying to identify alternative supplies, while rival Boeing says it has suspended titanium purchases from Russia.
Industry sources say it has expanded purchases from the United States and Japan while exploring new sources. Certifying new suppliers to stringent aerospace standards can take years.
"For the time being Airbus still procures a certain percentage of Russian titanium, but we are clearly on a track of becoming independent of it," Schoellhorn said.
It no longer needs titanium for military products but has "a short while" to go for civil planes, he added.
NH90 and Tiger military helicopter programmes have relied in the past on Russian titanium, according to Airbus' 2019 annual report.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has repeatedly called on Western governments to impose stronger economic sanctions on Russia.
But in April, Airbus said sanctions on the strategic metal would damage aerospace while barely hurting Russia's economy.
(Reporting by Tim Hepher; Editing by Mark Potter)