Russian airlines face an almost complete blockade of westbound flights over Europe after being barred from the airspace of nearly 30 countries following the invasion of Ukraine.
On Sunday evening, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the entire bloc would close its airspace to Russian planes.
Hours earlier, Germany, Italy, France, Portugal, Spain, Norway and Finland had joined the long list of states across the continent that have imposed nationwide bans on Russian planes flying over .
The UK, Ireland, Poland, Bulgaria, Romania, Slovenia, the Czech Republic and the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia had already taken the decision to close their airspace to Russian planes. , severely limiting Russia’s options for flying west.
Lithuanian airspace generally offers Russia the shortest flight to its enclave of Kaliningrad – a small patch of land by the Baltic Sea between Lithuania and Poland – which has no common border with Russia. .
The route of flight SU2500, operated by Russia’s national flag carrier, Aeroflot, from Moscow to Madrid on Sunday morning illustrated the flight route changes already required ahead of the announcement of Sunday’s wave of bans.
The Flight Tracking Website FlightRadar24 showed that the Airbus A321 flew northwest through Russia to the Baltic Sea, which it crossed to reach the northern coast of Germany, before crossing Germany, the Netherlands- Bas, Belgium, France and finally Spain.
FlightRadar24 showed that an Aeroflot flight traveling from Moscow to Athens on Sunday took a similar route before diving south, skirting the Italian coast before finally reaching the Greek capital. A much more direct trip would have taken a plane over Ukraine and the Black Sea.
Airspace closures are redrawing the roadmap for Russian jets, resulting in longer journeys, which consume much more fuel and cost airlines more, at a time when the invasion of the Ukraine by Moscow drove up oil prices. The situation will become much more difficult for Russia now that the EU has closed its airspace, almost completely blocking most westward flight paths.
German airline Lufthansa had already canceled all its flights to Russia for the coming week.
Russia has banned all British planes from landing in the country in retaliation for Boris Johnson’s decision to ban Aeroflot from landing in the UK.
“The immediate impact is on flights between Russia and other countries in Europe, the bigger issue is whether Russian airspace is closed,” said aviation consultant John Strickland, of JLS Consulting. “This would impact airlines from other countries, the UK and EU states, which would normally use Russian airspace to fly to many destinations in Asia. This means more indirect routes and much longer flights.
He added: “We don’t know how long this could last. Airline management teams will be racking their brains right now and thinking about contingency plans. »
The measures come just as international air travel is beginning to resume after the pandemic, although there are fewer passenger flights between Europe and Asia as many countries, such as China and Japan, mostly remain closed to foreign visitors. However, route changes are also expected to affect cargo transportation.
Sections of international airspace have been closed in recent years – including during the Gulf War and when US airspace was closed in the days following the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001 – but rarely as much. of countries have banned another from their airspace.
Parts of Ukrainian airspace were avoided by international airlines from July 2014, after Malaysia Airlines MH17 from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was shot down, killing all 298 people on board. International investigators say the Boeing 777 was shot down by a Russian-made missile fired from territory in eastern Ukraine held by pro-Russian rebels, but Moscow has denied any involvement.
If Russia decides to close international flights from its airspace, this decision would have a significant impact on the country’s finances. “Russia makes a lot of foreign currency to charge for overflight rights, airspace use and navigation, and it’s a substantial amount,” Strickland said.