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Ukraine war: What are airspace closures costing the travel industry?

Changes to flight paths are adding significant costs to airlines.
Changes to flight paths are adding significant costs to airlines.   -   Copyright  Euronews Travel
By AP

Europe and Canada said Sunday they would close their airspace to Russian airlines after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, raising the pressure on the United States to do the same.

“We are shutting down the EU airspace for Russians,” said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

Canada’s transport minister, Omar Alghabra, said his nation was closing its airspace to all Russian planes to hold the country accountable for an unprovoked attack on its neighbour.

The European Union action came after many of its member countries had said they were barring Russian planes or planned to do so by Sunday night.

Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo tweeted that European skies are “open for those who connect people, not for those who seek to brutally aggress.”

“There is no room in Dutch airspace for a regime that applies unnecessary and brutal violence,” Mark Harbers, the Netherlands’ minister of infrastructure and waterworks, 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 moves by the European Union and Canada would put added pressure on the US to also bar Russian flights.

“It is difficult to understand why we are last to move, both operationally and financially,” he said.

Russia has responded by banning flights from several European countries. Russian airline S7 suspended flights to Europe. On Sunday afternoon US time, a Moscow-New York flight by Russian national carrier Aeroflot turned back after passing over Norway, according to flight-tracking services. The plane had been routed to fly over Canada.

How will this impact an already struggling industry?

Growing tension between Russia and western nations over Russia's invasion of Ukraine has so far had a modest impact on airlines, which are trying to recover from huge losses since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Airlines in the US and Europe are expecting to pack planes with transatlantic tourists this summer. 

Helane Becker, an airline analyst for Cowen, said Friday that she continued to expect strong travel demand from the US to western Europe, but travel to eastern Europe “will be curtailed until there is some resolution or some assurance it won’t spread to other countries.”

Passenger flights forced to reroute could add between €3,600 and €10,800 per hour in costs, depending on the size of the plane and the price of fuel.

The global tension is already costing some airlines more money to reroute flights. An American Airlines flight from Delhi to New York has been stopping in Bangor, Maine, to refuel because its new route, skirting to the south of Russia, is longer.

Ian Petchenik, a spokesman for tracking service Flightradar 24, said “dozens” of cargo flights from Anchorage, Alaska, that would ordinarily pass over eastern Russia were being rerouted. “They will take a fuel penalty,” he said.

Mann, the aviation consultant, estimated that passenger flights forced to reroute could add between €3,600 and €10,800 per hour in costs, depending on the size of the plane and the price of fuel.

“Some routings will simply become uneconomic or impractical,” he said.

Cargo carrier FedEx said Sunday it has temporarily suspended flights to Russia. The company said in a statement that it continued to provide service inside Russia and between Russia and other countries "where conditions allow.”

Last week, shortly after Russia's invasion, Delta Air Lines suspended a partnership with Aeroflot in which the airlines sold seats on each other's flights.