US to close its airspace to Russian operators

Mar 2, 2022

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The U.S. is closing its airspace to Russian operators, following suit after a slew of allies did the same in the past three days.

President Biden announced the move at Tuesday’s State of the Union address.

“Tonight I am announcing that we will join our allies in closing off American airspace to all Russian flights, further isolating Russia and adding an additional squeeze on their economy,” Biden said.

Russia is expected to respond in kind, banning U.S. operators from its massive airspace, just as it has done for the more than 35 countries, including the entire European Union and Canada, that have already banned Russian operators.

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No U.S. passenger airline currently flies to Russia, but the closure of Russian airspace will affect flights that have historically flown over the nation on routes between Asia and North America.

Already, United Airlines announced earlier Tuesday that it would end its use of Russian airspace, becoming the last U.S. passenger carrier to end its Russian overflights. United is suspending two routes to India as a result of this action.

“This won’t affect much beyond cargo flights by Russian carriers, but a (likely) reciprocal ban will affect about 300 flights per month (nearly all cargo) and most of those can take a slightly longer routing to avoid eastern Russian airspace,” tweeted Ian Petchenik, a spokesman for popular flight-tracking site Flightradar24.com.

Unlike the central Russian airspace used by United to access India, the airspace that U.S. carriers utilize in Russia’s Far East near the Kamchatka Peninsula is adjacent to American airspace controlled out of Anchorage, Alaska, and is often accessed when flying to China, Japan and Korea. Avoiding Russian airspace in this scenario does add time and fuel burn, but not as dramatically as what United will now see for its remaining India routes.

More: United Airlines ends its use of Russian airspace, suspends two India routes

Stateside, Biden’s move could affect some major American companies.

Antonov An-124 cargo aircraft of the Russian Volga-Dnepr Group are stranded in Germany due to the European Union’s Russian flight ban. (Photo by Jan Woitas/picture alliance via Getty Images)

These companies, including Boeing and General Electric, rely upon massive Antonov An-124 freighter aircraft operated by Russian company Volga-Dnepr to ferry cargo inside of the U.S. This cabotage — the term used when a foreign carrier ferries passengers or cargo entirely within another nation’s borders — is regularly approved by the U.S. Department of Transportation because no U.S. carrier operates a plane that can handle large, oddly shaped cargo like the An-124 can.

It’s unclear how this action will affect Volga-Dnepr’s operations inside the U.S.

Featured photo of an Aeroflot Airbus A330 departing New York’s JFK Airport in 2015 by Alberto Riva/The Points Guy.

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