Aviation was an early target of EU sanctions against Russia after its invasion of Ukraine.
Brussels started relatively softly, banning the sale of planes and parts to Russian companies in the first package of measures passed last week, but the severity has grown alongside the violence of Moscow’s actions. All Russian planes – commercial and private – were banned from EU airspace on Sunday, prompting flight trackers to show Russian airliners spiraling before being forced to return home them.
In response, Russia banned EU airlines – as well as those from any other country with similar measures – from its skies.
Here are some of the implications for airlines, leasing companies, manufacturers and passengers.
1. Longer flight times
Avoiding Russian airspace means many reroutings for Europe-Asia flights – a return to the Cold War situation when overflights were rare.
Many airlines that fly to or over Russia have canceled flights for the next week while they work out exactly how they will handle the new flight paths. The most affected European airline is Finnair, according to data from network managers Eurocontrol, with 18 flights a day over Russia to Asia.
“Bypassing Russian airspace significantly lengthens flight times to Asia and therefore the operation of most of our passenger and cargo flights to Asia is not economically sustainable or competitive” , Finnair CEO Topi Manner said Monday.
Route extensions for planes avoiding Russian airspace will vary between 90 minutes – for example on the Frankfurt-Beijing route – and five hours, for flights between Helsinki and Tokyo, according to a Eurocontrol briefing.
It’s not just passenger routes that are affected.
Virgin has suspended cargo-only flights between London Heathrow and Shanghai, which typically operate four times a week, as the airline tries to find a way to reroute those services.
Airlines not only need to find new routes, but also need to think about how they will keep crew on board without breaching maximum working hours regulations.
2. Question Marks Over Refueling
Longer flight paths mean airlines are more likely to have to stop to refuel.
Emirates Chairman Tim Clark said he was reviewing the airline’s operations on the west coast of the United States, which typically pass through Russian airspace. “If things go wrong we can still fly,” he told the Telegraph, but added that it might require a stopover in Europe to refuel.
Anchorage airport in Alaska, a refueling stop for Europe-Asia flights during the Cold War, has received calls from airlines. This additional stop would add a substantial amount of time: becoming polar, according to aviation analyst John Walton, would add five and a half hours to a Beijing-Helsinki flight that currently takes eight hours, beyond the reach of some aircraft.
Flying further will also affect airline bank balances, as they will have to pay for that extra jet fuel.
About half of Russia’s commercial fleet is leased, mostly to companies based in Ireland, the industry’s global hub.
The financial sanctions mean that it will be difficult for the Russian airlines which lease these planes to pay the lessors, even if they are economically able to do so, said Donal Hanley, an Irish expert in aircraft leasing and financial law. . The immediate concern for leasing companies is whether they can actually get their planes back from Russia – but that should be mitigated by leeway under EU sanctions allowing those flights to return, a senior official says. of the European Commission.
The financial impact on leasing companies will be mitigated by country concentration risk clauses which do not allow more than a certain percentage of a company’s entire fleet to be in a single country, Hanley said.
4. Rollover Money
Russia announced on Monday that it would restrict flights in its airspace to 36 countries in response to aviation-related sanctions. That means longer flight times for long-haul carriers, but it also means Russia is running out of cash to help fund its common carrier, Aeroflot.
Moscow is notorious for charging particularly high fees; the most recent publicly available figures, from 2008, show that EU carriers were paying $420 million a year.
5. Aircraft manufacturers are backing down
Boeing temporarily closed its Kyiv office and suspended pilot training at its Moscow campus. Airbus said in a statement it was premature to comment on the impact of the sanctions, but added that it had an order book of 14 A350s for Aeroflot and around 40 single-aisle aircraft (A220 and A320 Family) at deliver through lessors.
Boeing and Airbus receive titanium from Russian company VSMPO-Avisma, but Airbus said: “Geopolitical risks are built into our titanium sourcing policies. We are therefore protected in the short/medium term.
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