Europe, Canada close airspace to Russian jets, US has yet to decide

Canada and European nations moved to close their airspaces to Russian aircraft, in an unprecedented step aimed at applying pressuring on Russian President Vladimir Putin to end the invasion of Ukraine.

Following the move, in a statement Russian airlines Aeroflot said it would cancel all flights to European destinations.

Washington is considering similar action but has yet to decide, said U.S. officials. The United States has called on its citizens to immediately leave Russia on commercial flights, citing an increasing in the number of airlines cancelling flights as countries closed their airspace to Russia.

The closure of airspace to Russian jets comes at a time when the airline industry continues to grapple with the fallout of COVID-19 measures that has undermined demand for global travel.

France, Germany, Spain and Britain, have joined the Nordics and Baltic states in declaring bans on Russian use of their airspace, in what is seen as a pressure tactics by mostly NATO allies to wage economic war against Putin.

Led by the United States, the West has also unveiled sweeping new financial sanctions on Russia.

Moscow is expected to retaliate against the air blockades and other sanctions.

According to experts, with restricted air access, Russian jets will have to divert flights south and also avoid areas of tension in the Middle East.

According to U.S.-based analyst Robert Mann of R.W. Mann & Company, Inc, “A reciprocal airspace ban by Russia and the United States would cause longer flight times for U.S. carriers and could require crew changes on East Coast routes to Asia”, while adding, “It would just add a lot of expense”.

In a twitter post on Sunday, French Transport Minister Jean-Baptiste Djebbari wrote, “France is shutting its airspace to all Russian aircraft and airlines from this evening on”.

Air France-KLM said it is suspending flights to and from Russia as well as the overflight of Russian airspace until further notice as of Sunday.

Similarly, Finnair said it would also cancel flights to Russia, Japan, South Korea and China through March 6 as it avoided Russian airspace, though flights to Singapore, Thailand and India would continue with an added hour of flight time.

According to industry sources, if U.S. airlines were barred from Russian airspace, it would add to fuel cost and increase flight time for some international flights; it would also force the US jets to refuel in Anchorage.

Flights that could be impacted include U.S. flights to India, China, Japan and Korea, said sources.

On Sunday, an Aeroflot flight from Miami to Moscow passed through Canadian airspace after the ban was announced, according to FlightRadar24, a flight tracking website.

A spokesperson for Canada’s transport minister said the air traffic control manager NAV Canada had mistakenly permitted a banned aircraft into Canadian airspace. Steps were being taken to ensure that similar incidents do not repeat.

Impact of the ban

The move spells disaster for logistics companies especially Ireland-based aircraft leasing industry.

U.S.-based United Parcel Service Inc and FedEx Corp, two of the world’s largest logistics companies, have said they are halting deliveries to destinations in Russia. Both did not respond to requests for comment.

In a report, Airfinance Journal said EU-based lessors would be given until March 28 to wind down deals with Russian airlines; this is a major setback for the industry since Russian carriers were seen as more reliable performers on jet rental agreements than many global carriers during the pandemic.

According to data from analytics firm Cirium, Russian companies have 980 passenger jets in service, of which 777 are leased. Of these, 515 jets, with an estimated market value of about $10 billion, are rented from foreign firms.

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