Russia to ban overflying by EU airlines?

So far, the European Union has held the upper-hand in its sanctions dispute with Russia. Vital trade and business links have already been suspended and Russian low-cost carrier Dobrolet grounded (see news, August 4).

But now the Russian authorities are considering playing their trump card — ban overflying by EU airlines, according to Reuters.

While this is currently just a discussion, should overflying rights be withdrawn it would wreak havoc with the schedules of EU carriers and have a major impact on trade and business between the EU and its fast-growing Asian markets.

But does Russia have the right to do this? Most certainly, it has. As Business Traveller has mentioned before, the then Soviet Union never signed the ICAO Freedoms of the Air treaty drawn up in Chicago at the end of the Second World War.

It means that not only does Russia have the right to deny overflying, it can also demand hefty royalty payments from foreign carriers, something which provides its government with revenue amounting to hundreds of million dollars a year.

Until the early 1990s, the Soviet Union and latterly Russia banned most foreign airlines from overflying its territory. Flights from, for example, Europe to Asia had either to take circuitous “Silk Route” routings or else travel via Anchorage in Alaska.

It remains the case today. Russia will not automatically grant overflying rights, which means that a handful of carriers like, for example, Taiwan’s Eva Air or Philippine Airlines take roundabout routings to Europe (see news, November 2013).

Some of our readers will recall the days when a flight to mainland China would routinely take over 20 hours, roughy twice what it would take today. They may also recall when most flights between Europe and Tokyo or Seoul routed via Anchorage, a flight time of over 18 hours.

Not only would such a move increase airline costs (fuel, staffing, aircraft utilisation), it would also discourage the large traffic flows between Europe and Asia, and vice versa, which were not in existence in the Soviet days.

The Silk Route is already busy. How could it cope with so many extra flights? And the Anchorage routing is lengthy — non-stop flights between Europe and the Far East may not be possible.

In short, Europe would no longer be as close to Asia as it is today.

Alex McWhirter


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  • But could the EU respond in a similar way and ban Russian aircraft from using its airspace for overfly ops? It would seriously annoy many of the very mobile Russians.

  • Good counter move of Russia. It shows that they have something that we need as well (besides the gas).
    It will cost the airlines dearly, ticket prices up, passenger numbers down.
    And all of that because some EU people want to get the Ukraine under EU influence. Ridiculous.

  • I just wanted to update you to the fact that today the Russian government has officially confirmed that the above flight ban is under consideration.

  • Well, then it should be up to Airbus and Boeing to stop all maintenance and spare part deliveries and works for Russian airlines. Gulf Stream has already done so which reportedly grounded one rich oligarch’s private jet. Aeroflot may not be able to reactivate all their outdatedTupolews and Ilyushins and keep their schedule running, not even to think of the higher costs and less comfort those old airliners bring with them.

  • Good. I’d feel safer avoiding Ukraine/Russian airspace entirely.
    Qantas ditched the Kangaroo route for a Dubai connection, surely other airlines could look to leverage the same flight corridor to access Asia. May change the stopover point, or increase connections (depending on aircraft range) but I’d happily accept that for my next BA flight home.
    Let Russia play their limp trump card!

  • How is it ‘ridiculous’ ??
    How do you condone Russia’s actions ?
    Including the shoot down of an innocent passenger jet….
    Your comment reflects your lack of intelligence…

  • Ban on Russia is not because EU wants Ukraine..it seems that some people don’t understand what is happening man, specially when an airplane has been taken down in the area of conflict.

  • Flyingdutchman says this is “alll because the EU want to get the Ukraine under EU influence. Ridiculous” and chooses not to refer to the murder of hundreds of people on the Malaysian airlines flight. Sanctions are often painful to all sides but to ignore such behaviour is far more dangerous in the longer term. If we have to suffer inconveniences so as to stand up for the victims of this tragedy, so be it.

  • Put a ban on all Russian airlines to enter EU airspace and withdraw the landing rights. I guess, then out of a sudden, Kiev and Istanbul will be very busy airports.

  • “the murder of hundreds of people on the Malaysian airlines flight”
    The problem is that no one seen any real evidences it was Russia.
    And there will be no winner in the war of sanctions, unfortunately. EU can ground all Russian airlines, Russia can block a gas pipe. And as a result you and I shall pay for politics games.

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