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European Union closes its airspace in bid to rein in Putin

An Aeroflot aircraft lands at Brussels Airport, in Zaventem, outside Brussels, on March 12, 2020. (Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP/Getty Images/TNS)

The European Union will close its airspace to Russia, attempting to further isolate President Vladimir Putin after he ordered his troops to invade neighboring Ukraine.

The collective action applies to any plane owned, chartered or otherwise controlled by a Russian person, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said Sunday in announcing the measure.

“So let me be clear,” she told reporters in Brussels. “Our airspace will be closed to every Russian plane, and that includes the private jets of oligarchs.”

The move is part of an array of measures, from sanctions to flight bans to sending aid to Ukraine, being unfurled by Western nations to punish Putin, pressure those closest to him and persuade him to back down.

The EU’s biggest members, including France and Germany, barred Russian planes earlier. Airlines on both sides of the divide were already feeling the effects of reciprocal measures that, if they stand, will set operating conditions back decades — hearkening back to Cold War-era prohibitions on Western flights across Siberia.

Aeroflot’s direct access to points west has been walled off, forcing the national flag carrier to veer far to the north or south. Moscow responded by blocking access to Russian airspace — a key pathway for long-haul journeys with Asia — for airlines from the U.K. and a number of European countries in retaliation.

This, along with EU sanctions on aircraft parts, forced some to suspend flights to Russia and through it to destinations like Shanghai, Seoul and Hong Kong.

Air France and Finnair Oyj were among the carriers suspending flights to Asia. The French carrier said it was studying alternatives to restore service while avoiding Russian airspace. Finnair cited the extra time and fuel cost.

“For many of our North-East Asia flights, rerouting would mean considerably longer flight time, and operations would not be economically feasible,” the Scandinavian carrier said.

EU companies are barred from insuring Russian planes and technologies, Adina Valean, the bloc’s transport commissioner, said on Twitter. Aircraft goods and technology, including spare parts and repairs, are also covered, she said.

Economic repercussions for carriers have quickly stacked up.

Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd. on Friday suspended a cargo-only route from London Heathrow to Shanghai, in one example of how the actions could filter out beyond airlines to have a broader impact on business activity.

The Dutch arm of Air France-KLM, Deutsche Lufthansa AG and Hungarian discounter Wizz Air Holdings Plc each said they would halt flights to or from Russia for seven days.

KLM cited the EU sanctions barring aircraft parts being sent to Russia, even for its own planes.

“This means KLM can no longer guarantee that flights to Russia or passing over Russian territory can return safely,” the airline said. Wizz also cited the ban on spare parts.

Four Wizz aircraft remain stranded in Ukraine, and with its home airspace closed, Ukraine International Airlines extended a flight suspension through March 23.

Carriers and aircraft leasing firms were also assessing how sanctions such as potential bans on Russia from the SWIFT international payments system might affect aircraft access and the ability to fly.

Scores of leased aircraft operated by Aeroflot and other Russian carriers may be vulnerable to repossession, according to analysts at aviation advisory IBA.


© 2022 Bloomberg L.P
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