Europe and Canada said on Sunday they would close their airspace to Russian airlines after Russia invaded Ukraine, increasing pressure on the United States to do the same.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has said the European Union will close its airspace to aircraft owned, registered or controlled by Russians, “including the private jets of the oligarchs”.
Canadian Transport Minister Omar Alghabra has said his country is closing its airspace to all Russian planes to hold the country responsible for an unprovoked attack on its neighbour.
The European Union action came after many of its member countries said they were banning Russian planes or planned to do so by Sunday evening.
Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo tweeted that European skies are “open to those who connect people, not to those who seek to brutally assault”.
“There is no place in Dutch airspace for a regime that applies unnecessary and brutal violence,” Dutch Minister for Infrastructure and Water Mark Harbers said on Twitter.
A handful of European nations, including Spain, Greece and Turkey, had resisted closing their airspace before von der Leyen’s announcement.
Robert Mann, an aviation consultant in New York, said the measures taken by the European Union and Canada would put additional pressure on the United States to also ban Russian flights.
“It’s hard to understand why we’re the last to move, both operationally and financially,” he said.
Transport Canada later said that an Aeroflot flight had violated the ban and that it “would not hesitate to take appropriate enforcement action and other measures to prevent future violations”. The department said Canadian officials “mistakenly allowed a prohibited aircraft into Canadian airspace. This should not have happened.”
As more airlines cancel flights to and from Russia and more countries block Russian airlines, the U.S. Embassy in Moscow said Americans “should consider to leave Russia immediately via the commercial options still available”.
Russia has responded to Western aviation sanctions by banning flights from several European countries. Russian airline S7 has suspended flights to Europe.
On Sunday afternoon US time, a Moscow-New York flight by Russian flag carrier Aeroflot turned around after flying over Norway, according to flight tracking services. The plane had been routed to fly over Canada. Other Aeroflot flights have taken circuitous routes after European countries began to close their airspace.
Growing tension between Russia and Western countries over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has so far had a modest impact on airlines, which are trying to recover from the huge losses suffered since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. They face jet fuel prices that have soared more than 50% since last summer and are expected to rise further due to sanctions on Russian oil and natural gas.
Airlines in the United States and Europe plan to pack planes with transatlantic vacationers this summer. Helane Becker, airline analyst for Cowen, said on Friday that she continues to expect strong travel demand from the United States to Western Europe, but travel to Eastern Europe “will be curtailed until that there is a resolution or an assurance that they will not spread to other countries.”
George Dimitroff, an analyst for aviation research firm Cirium, said most of Europe’s biggest airlines had one or two daily flights to Moscow and St Petersburg and would not be affected much, although Hungarian budget carrier Wizz Air , which had a hub in Kyiv, may be feeling the pinch a bit more.
With European airspace closed for the time being, Aeroflot, Rossiya and S7 “effectively become Russian flag carriers”, he said. Of these, Aeroflot had the most international flights.
The global tension is already costing some airlines more to reroute flights.
An American Airlines flight from Delhi to New York stopped in Bangor, Maine, to refuel because its new route, skirting southern Russia, is longer. It remains to be seen whether United Airlines will do the same on four routes between the United States and India. These flights usually pass over Russia, and two of its planes were following these paths on Sunday.
Ian Petchenik, spokesman for tracking service Flightradar 24, said “dozens” of cargo flights from Anchorage, Alaska, which would normally pass over eastern Russia, were being rerouted. “They will take a fuel penalty,” he said.
Mann, the aviation consultant, estimated that rerouting passenger flights could add between $4,000 and $12,000 per hour in costs, depending on the size of the plane and the price of fuel.
“Some routes will simply become unprofitable or impractical,” he said.
Cargo carrier FedEx said on Sunday it had temporarily suspended flights to Russia. The company said in a statement that it continues to provide services within Russia and between Russia and other countries “where conditions permit.”
Last week, shortly after the Russian invasion, Delta Air Lines suspended a partnership with Aeroflot in which the airlines sold seats on each other’s flights.
Associated Press writer Rob Gillies in Toronto and AP writer Lorne Cook in Brussels contributed to this report.
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