Europe and Canada decide to close the skies to Russian planes

A view shows Russian flagship airline Aeroflot’s first Airbus A350-900 during a media presentation at Sheremetyevo International Airport outside Moscow, Russia March 4, 2020. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov/File Photo

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Feb 27 (Reuters) – European nations and Canada decided on Sunday to close their airspace to Russian planes, an unprecedented move aimed at pressuring President Vladimir Putin to end his invasion of Ukraine , the largest attack on a European state since World War II.

The United States is considering similar action, but has not yet made a final decision, according to US officials.

The ban on Russian jets comes as the airline industry continues to deal with the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic which is still undermining global travel demand.

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Germany, Spain and France have joined Britain, the Nordic countries and the Baltic states in declaring a ban on Russia’s use of their airspace, a major escalation in a tactic led mainly by NATO allies to wage economic war against Putin in retaliation for the invasion.

The West, led by the United States, also unveiled sweeping new financial sanctions against Russia, which has called its assault on Ukraine a “special operation” to capture “neo-Nazis” who Putin says , threaten the security of Russia – an accusation Kiev and Western governments say is baseless propaganda. Read more

Russia is now expected to retaliate again against air blockades and other sanctions. It has already responded to early bans from European airspace with its own decrees banning airlines from Britain, Bulgaria and Poland.

Without access to Russian airways, experts say carriers will have to divert flights south while avoiding areas of tension in the Middle East.

A reciprocal airspace ban by Russia and the United States would result in longer flight times for U.S. carriers and may require crew changes on East Coast routes to Asia, the official said. American analyst Robert Mann of RW Mann & Company, Inc.

This could make some flights too expensive for US carriers to operate. “It would just add a lot of expense,” he said.

WILL WASHINGTON FOLLOW?

“France is closing its airspace to all Russian planes and airlines from tonight,” French Transport Minister Jean-Baptiste Djebbari said in a message on Twitter, an announcement that echoed across the country. continental Europe.

Air France-KLM (AIRF.PA) announced that it was suspending flights to and from Russia as well as overflights of Russian airspace until further notice from Sunday.

Earlier, the German Transport Ministry announced that it would close its airspace to Russian planes and airlines for three months from Sunday, except for humanitarian aid flights.

Spain has also closed its airspace to Russian planes.

The closure of European airspace to Russian airlines and vice versa has had an immediate impact on global aviation. Air France has announced that it is temporarily suspending flights to and from China, Korea and Japan, while it “studies flight plan options to avoid Russian airspace, in accordance with the directives of the authorities. French and international”.

If U.S. airlines were barred from Russian airspace, it would lengthen some international flights and some would likely be forced to refuel in Anchorage, industry sources told Reuters. Flights that could be affected include US flights to India, China, Japan and Korea, the sources said.

The White House National Security Council declined to comment on whether the United States would close its skies to Russia and referred questions to the Federal Aviation Administration, which did not immediately comment.

Swiss International Air Lines, a subsidiary of German Lufthansa

Canada also said it had closed its airspace to Russian planes with immediate effect. Read more

Air Canada “does not operate to destinations in Ukraine or Russia, and at all times we adhere to all airspace restrictions by Transport Canada and the FAA (US Federal Aviation Administration),” the airline said. .

A spokesperson for Canada’s transport minister said there are no direct flights between Russia and Canada, but several Russian flights a day pass through Canadian airspace.

The Nordic countries of Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Iceland also made similar announcements, following shutdowns declared by Britain, Poland, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic and Romania. The Baltic countries, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia are also closing their airspace to Russian airliners. Read more

“It is now absolutely necessary to take further tough measures to isolate Russia,” Swedish EU Minister Hans Dahlgren told public service radio SR.

Finnish Transport and Communications Minister Timo Harakka said on Twitter on Saturday that Finland, which shares a long land border with Russia, was planning a similar shutdown.

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Reporting by David Shepardson in Washington, DC; Jessica Jones in Madrid; Denny Thomas in Toronto and Allison Lampert in Montreal; Written by Mark Bendeich and Anna Driver; Editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise and Daniel Wallis

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Mary I. Bruner