Russia Approves Continued Overflights Of US Airlines

**Update: 29/10/21 @ 16:07 UTC – Official statement provided by Airlines For America. Included in article.**

US airlines have been desperately seeking continued rights to fly through Russian airspace. In a move to meet market demands, carriers sought assistance from the US State Department, which reported on Thursday that requests had been approved by Russia.

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United Airlines passes through Russian airspace to get to destinations in India and East Asia. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

In a statement provided to Simple Flying, Airlines For America’s Managing Director for Industry Communications, Carter Yang said the following:

“A4A appreciates the US government’s efforts to secure approvals of Russian overflights for the upcoming winter season on behalf of US airlines. Russian overflights are key to maintaining and expanding US airlines’ global network…A4A underscores the importance of the US government securing additional Russian overflights for US airlines in the near term.”

Overflight requests granted

According to Reuters, late Thursday, October 28th, saw the US State Department report that the Russian government had approved requests from US carriers for overflights. This comes after an appeal to the State Department two weeks prior.

Representing most of the United States’ largest commercial passenger and cargo carriers, Airlines for America requested in an October 14th letter that Secretary of State Antony Blinken intervene and “act urgently” to address the needs of airlines. The letter, seen by Reuters, stated that inaction could force airlines to halt some flights.

“Many US airlines urgently need additional rights to overfly Russian airspace to meet market demands,” the letter stated, later adding that inefficient routing would be the key outcome of inaction, further resulting in “time penalties, technical stops, excess CO2 emissions and loss of historic slot rights.”

Delta aircraft pass through Russian airspace for services to China, South Korea, and Japan. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

“Russia approved US carriers’ applications for overflights last week,” the Department of State reported. The government body added that it “continues to engage with the relevant Russian authorities to secure expanded air services opportunities for US carriers.”

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Welcome news for airlines

It’s no surprise that the news of Russia’s granting of overflights is welcome news for airlines. United told Reuters that it had “received the necessary overflight approvals from Russian authorities to continue operating our non-stop flights to India this winter without interruption.”

Meanwhile, Airlines for America President and CEO Nicholas Calio highlighted the need for  Russian overflights, as it allows his member airlines to efficiently operate from the US to destinations in Asia, India, and the Middle East.

At this time, United Airlines overflies Russia for its services to India (Mumbai and Delhi) as well as flights to Seoul Incheon, Taipei, and Tokyo. Meanwhile, Delta Air Lines overflies Russia for flights to Seoul and Tokyo. The airline currently connects onwards to Shanghai through Seoul. For its part, American Airlines overflies Russia for its LAX and Dallas to Beijing services.

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American Airlines’ flights from Los Angeles and Dallas-Fort Worth pass through Russian airspace on their way to Beijing. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

The importance of the Siberian corridor

133 countries are signatories of the ICAO’s International Air Services Transit Agreement, which allows any commercial airline from any country to fly through their respective airspace. However, Russia is absent from this list, meaning that it can actively control which airlines can overfly the country. Most of the area overflow by airlines is referred to as the Siberian Corridor.

Russia’s geographic position in the northern hemisphere means that its airspace is extremely important for direct, non-stop Europe-Asia and North America-Asia air travel. This fact has not been lost on the country as it has used its control and granting of overflights as a bargaining chip in several international issues over the years.

Even though the immediate crisis has been averted, Airlines for America CEO Nicholas Calio acknowledges that there is more work to do, stating that US cargo airlines “need restoration of overflight rights on all-cargo routes between points in Europe and Asia that were mutually agreed upon but were unilaterally stripped away by the Russian government.”

At the same time, some carriers are reportedly pursuing additional overflight rights. Indeed, this will be an important issue for upcoming transpacific airline Northern Pacific.

With ongoing tensions between “the west” and Russia, the Siberian Corridor will always be a difficult point to navigate around- both literally and politically.