More than a dozen European countries closed their airspace to airlines from Russia, which reciprocated with its own bans in an echo of the Cold War restrictions that caused airlines to fly circuitous intercontinental routes.
Ireland and Belgium on Sunday joined nations saying they would ban Russian planes, including Finland, the U.K. and Germany, in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The EU may propose banning Russia across the 27-country bloc, an official said.
Together with a no-fly zone in and around the area of conflict, the latest moves wall off Russian carriers such as Aeroflot from the shortest routes heading west, forcing them to head south as far as Turkey.
European carriers going in the other direction face higher costs as well, as Russia, a key route to Asia, began blocking access in response. Finnair Oyj, which has staked its strategy on short routes to Asia, said such a move would likely halt those flights.
“For many of our North-East Asia flights, rerouting would mean considerably longer flight time, and operations would not be economically feasible,” the airline said in an email Sunday, following the Finnish government’s decision.
The breakdown in normal operations harkens back to periods during the Cold War, when Western carriers weren’t able to cross Siberia on their way to Japan, Hong Kong, and China and for some decades.
Deutsche Lufthansa AG and Dutch flag carrier KLM said they wouldn’t fly to or across Russia for seven days. Hungary’s Wizz Air Holdings Plc temporarily halted its flights to or from Russia. Four of its aircraft remain stranded in Ukraine.
Russian planes are being banned from: Belgium Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Poland, Romania, Slovenia, U.K. (Ukraine is a no-fly zone)
Russia has banned flights from: Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovenia, U.K.
Repercussions for carriers quickly stacked up. Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd. on Friday suspended a cargo-only route from London Heathrow to Shanghai.
Three planes from Germany, including two passenger jets operated by Lufthansa, appeared to turn around in Russian airspace, according to air traffic monitoring website ADS-B Exchange.
Two jets operated by Dutch carrier KLM had to turn around on their way to Moscow and St. Petersburg. The airline, owned by Air France-KLM, cited new European Union sanctions barring aircraft parts being sent to Russia, even for its own planes.
“This means KLM can no longer guarantee that flights to Russia or passing over Russian territory can return safely,” the airline said. Wizz also cited the ban on spare parts.
Carriers and aircraft leasing firms were also assessing how sanctions such as the potential ban on Russia from the SWIFT international payments system might affect aircraft access and the ability to fly.
On Friday, Delta Air Lines Inc. suspended a marketing agreement with Aeroflot, Russia’s national airline.
Russian carrier S7 canceled flights to most of the 16 West European cities it serves, including Paris, Milan and Barcelona, through March 13. Latvia’s AirBaltic did the same for service to Russia through March 26, citing “increased risk and imposed restrictions.”
A total of 24 passenger flights usually operate between the U.K. and Russia each week, based on planned schedules for the past seven days, according to aviation data provider Cirium. Of those, two-thirds are with Aeroflot, with the rest flown by British Airways.
For now, the long-haul diversions will cause European carriers limited pain, since Covid-19 restrictions in Asia mean there are few flights operating. Virgin has paused passenger service to Hong Kong through mid-March because of the pandemic.
Altogether, there were about 2,000 flights scheduled from Europe to Asia for the week starting March 1, based on BloombergNEF data. While that’s below pre-Covid levels, Singapore and Japan are starting to ease travel barriers, even if China and Hong Kong remain essentially closed.
“The impact for us is not huge because right now we are only flying to a small number of destinations in Asia and we can reroute our flights,” Luis Gallego, chief executive officer BA parent IAG SA, said Friday