EU countries close airspace for Russian airlines

Departure board at Moscow airport

Air traffic in and over Russia is likely to come to a standstill in the next few days due to the war in Ukraine.

(Photo: dpa)

Frankfurt Flight LH 718 from Munich to Seoul had actually almost completely crossed the airspace over Russia when the Lufthansa Airbus 350 turned and flew back towards Germany. A precautionary decision was taken, said a spokesman for the group on Saturday evening – because of “the current and emerging regulatory situation”.

It wasn’t an isolated case. LH 716 from Frankfurt to Tokyo also turned back over Estonia on Saturday evening, shortly before the aircraft would have entered Russian airspace. Lufthansa will initially suspend flights to and via Russia for seven days, the airline announced on Saturday evening. Deutsche Post/DHL also ordered the return of a Boeing freighter on its flight from Leipzig to Tokyo.

The two companies are not alone in their decision. British Airways, which belongs to the IAG Group, had already announced last Friday that it no longer wanted to fly over Russia. In contrast, aircraft from Air France, Finnair, Korean Air and All Nippon Airways were still flying over Russia on Saturday evening, as data from the Flightradar24 portal showed.

But that could change quickly. The EU wants to close its airspace to Russian airlines. For example, Federal Transport Minister Volker Wissing ordered on Saturday evening to prepare a blocking of German airspace for Russian commercial aircraft. The Czech Republic and Poland as well as the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania had previously declared that they wanted to block Russian airlines. So it is only natural that the Russian government will react and revoke the overflight rights of western airlines. Russia closed its airspace to aircraft from a number of EU countries on Sunday night.

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According to a statement from the Russian aviation authority, machines from Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania and Slovenia are no longer allowed to fly to Russia, as reported by the Tass agency. The ban also applies to transit flights and overflights through Russian airspace.

The Ukraine war is becoming more and more of a burden on air traffic – just at a time when the industry is preparing to emerge from the worst crisis ever caused by the corona virus. The flight route to Asia could therefore be canceled for the time being.

Airlines have to fly long detours in the direction of Asia

As a result, flights from Europe to Asia have to take long detours. During the Cold War, when Russia was also impassable, the airlines headed west on their way to Asia instead of the usual eastward. Flight times increased by several hours. In addition, a refueling stop had to be made, for example in Alaska. If this case occurs again, it means higher costs and probably also rising ticket prices.

Experts like Alex Irving from Bernstein Research see a whole range of challenges for aviation. Fuel prices are rising rapidly, inflation is shrinking private household budgets, which in turn is depressing ticket demand.

The only good news in this situation: The passenger jets heading to Asia are currently only moderately busy anyway due to the pandemic. Important countries like China have still largely closed their borders to foreigners. In the industry it is therefore expected that some of the flights will be canceled without replacement for the time being. So the losses should be manageable.

On the other hand, this also means that there is no cargo space in passenger aircraft. This is likely to put further strain on the tense supply chains.

More: Forced break at VW in Zwickau: Wiring harnesses from the Ukraine are missing

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