Russian Planes Barred From Airspace Over Europe, Canada

Date: Tuesday, March 1, 2022
Source: The Wall Street Journal

The European Union and Canada on Sunday said they would bar Russian planes from entering their airspace, joining other countries in choking off Russia’s access to global aviation routes in response to its invasion of Ukraine.

The EU announced the step amid a host of other actions, including financing the purchase and delivery of weapons in a show of support for Ukraine. In closing its airspace, the EU banned not only commercial airliners but any plane owned, registered or controlled by Russians, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said.

“Our airspace will be closed to every Russian plane—and that includes the private jets of oligarchs,” Ms. von der Leyen said. Russia and Ukraine accounted for 7% of private jet flights in Europe last year, according to WingX, an aviation data consultant.

Canada’s ministers of transport and foreign affairs said Sunday that all Russian owned, chartered or operated aircraft would be barred from Canadian airspace effective immediately.

The closures mean that Russian planes face increasingly limited corridors where they can operate and will be forced to seek out more circuitous and fuel-intensive routes.

On Sunday, a flight operated by Russian flag carrier Aeroflot-Russian Airlines PJSC that was headed toward New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport did a U-turn back to Moscow after new restrictions were announced.

Another Aeroflot flight from Miami to Moscow passed through Canadian airspace Sunday evening. That was a mistake, said Valérie Glazer, a spokeswoman for Canada’s Minister of Transport.

“This shouldn’t have happened,” she said, adding that the transport minister would meet with the head of Canada’s air-traffic control provider to ensure additional flights by Russian carriers aren’t allowed through.

“Canadian airspace remains closed to Russian planes.”

In a separate statement on Twitter, Transport Canada said it was launching a review of the conduct of Aeroflot and NAV Canada, the air-traffic control provider, leading up to the incident.

A spokesman for NAV Canada confirmed that an Aeroflot plane passed through Canada’s airspace, but said the flight’s pilot declared it was a humanitarian flight, which requires special handling. Aeroflot couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

There are no nonstop flights between Canada and Russia, according to Cirium, an aviation data provider, but Russian flag carrier Aeroflot often uses Canadian airspace for flights from Moscow to destinations in the U.S. and the Caribbean, a Canadian official said.

U.S. airspace is still open to Russian aircraft and vice versa. U.S. officials have discussed a similar ban, but a decision hasn’t been made, according to people familiar with the matter. A spokesman for the White House’s National Security Council declined to comment.

The U.S. Embassy in Russia told U.S. citizens to consider leaving Russia immediately to avoid being stranded as more flights are canceled.

“An increasing number of airlines are canceling flights into and out of Russia, and numerous countries have closed their airspace to Russian airlines,” the embassy said Sunday. “U.S. citizens should consider departing Russia immediately via commercial options still available.”

Aeroflot offers regular flights from Moscow to New York, Los Angeles, and Miami. U.S. passenger airlines don’t currently operate flights to Russia but do fly through its airspace on certain long-haul routes.

United Airlines Holdings Inc. flights to and from India have flown through Russian airspace in recent days. The airline has been developing contingency plans in case its access to that airspace is cut off, a spokeswoman said. Cargo airlines regularly cross Russian airspace on flights to Asia from Europe and North America,

The move to cut Russia off from commercial airspace began Thursday, when the U.K. banned Russian commercial jets from its airspace, part of the U.K.’s sanctions. On Friday, Russia responded by banning British carriers from its skies. Other European states began following on Saturday, cutting off swaths of the Continent for Russian airliners, before the EU formally cut off airspace on Sunday.

The flight bans have triggered reciprocal actions by Moscow in many cases, closing a crucial corridor for many long-haul flights, particularly between Europe and Asia.

European carriers have been forced to cancel flights in response, not only to Russian cities, but also to destinations in Asia that rely on Russian overflights. Air France said it would suspend flights to China and Japan while it analyzes new routings, while Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd. said it had suspended a cargo route to Shanghai. Finnair Oyj said it would halt routes to South Korea, Japan and China, and warned that flights to Thailand, Singapore and India would take about an hour longer.

The airspace restrictions highlight the integral role Russia plays in global air travel. The quickest route for flights between Europe and the Pacific Rim is flying across Siberia. Transpolar routes between North America and many parts of Asia also cross Russian airspace.

The routes have provided a steady stream of revenue for Russian authorities, who charge fees for the use of the airspace and tightly control access. Almost 195,000 commercial flights passed through Russia’s airspace in 2021, according to the country’s federal air transportation agency. As with most routes, traffic has been reduced during Covid-19 travel bans. Before the pandemic, that number reached 301,000.

The mounting restrictions have cut Russia off from the global aviation network in other ways as well.

The U.S. cargo operators United Parcel Service Inc. and FedEx Corp. said they have suspended shipments into Russia. The U.S.-based shipping giants had earlier cut off shipments to and from Ukraine and were preparing contingency plans for their Russian operations. Now, both have temporarily stopped delivering shipments bound for Russia.

Delta Air Lines Inc. said Friday it would no longer sell seats on flights operated by Aeroflot or allow the Russian national airline to sell tickets on Delta flights, suspending a code-sharing agreement. The move affected the sale of tickets on a handful of Aeroflot-operated flights out of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport, and it removed Aeroflot’s right to sell tickets on Delta flights from Los Angeles and New York.


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