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European Carriers Suspend Asia Flights Amid Ukraine Crisis

A Finnair Airbus A350-900 XWB approaching. (Photo: Antti Lehto)

As the conflict between Russia and Ukraine continues escalating, more countries are closing their airspace to Russian carriers and Russia-registered aircrafts. In return, Russia closed its airspace to those countries to retaliate. As most of the routes between Europe and Asia pass through Russia, the result of those sanctions forced multiple European airlines to cease their operations to Asia, including Air France, KLM, and Lufthansa.

The British Government was the first authority to impose restrictions on Russian aircrafts. Since then, the entire EU, the United States, and Canada have imposed the same restrictions as a reaction to Russias military actions in Ukraine. The restriction forced Aeroflot, the biggest international airline in Russia, to cancel all of its westbound flights to Europe and North America.

As a countermeasure to the resections imposed by the west, Russia closed its airspace to those nations as well. Major carriers in the US, such as United Airlines, American Airlines, and UPS, announced that they will reroute or cancel the flights that are using Russian airspace. The influence of restrictions is only on flights between the U.S. and South Asia, such as India and Singapore.

On the other hand, the impact of restriction was far worse on European Airlines. On top of suspending flights to Russia and Ukraine, Airlines are forced to take significant detours or even cease operations to their Asia destinations due to the unavailability of Russian airspace.

Air France announced on Feb. 28, that, due to the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine, the airline will cancel all flights from Europe to China, Japan, and Korea until further notice. Today, the airline updated that announcement and resumes its operations from PairsDe Gaulle Airport to Beijing, Shanghai, Seoul, and Tokyo. The flights will fly via Turkey, Uzbekistan, Kazakstan, and China to avoid using Russia’s Airspace. The reroute is expected to add more hours to the journey.

Under the same roof as Air France, KLM, however, is still working on its solutions to resume flights between Amsterdam and its Asia destinations.

Lufthansa Group — with Lufthansa, Swiss International Air Lines, and Air Austria — is maintaining its operations in Asia. However, flights have all been updated with two more hours on the journey, due to the detour to avoid Russian airspace.

A Two-Continent Problem

From the Asia side, no airspace restrictions have been imposed from East Asian countries to Russia at this moment. At the moment when this reporting was authored, a number of aircrafts from China, Korea, and Japan are flying over the Russian airspace as usual.

The restrictions came in a bad time for airlines as the international oil price hits a record high. The detour and cancellation will further trim Airlinesprofitability, as they are recovering from the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. Meanwhile, passengers may face high fares and a reduced supply of seats between Europe and Asia, making the slow recovery of flights stagger.

As the military conflict in the region goes on, further impacts are expected on a global scale.

March 4 at 2:15 p.m. ET: Correction — an earlier version of this article misstated the name of a member airline of the Lufthansa Group. It is Swiss International Airlines, not SwissAir.

Lei Yan


  • Lei Yan

    Lei is from Inner Mongolia, China, and now lives in Guangzhou. He grew up in an aviation family, where his passion began. During his time at Penn State University, he studied Industrial Engineering specializing in operations research, and he graduated with an honor’s thesis on airport gate assignment optimization. Now, he is a Purchasing Manager with Procter & Gamble. In his free time, he enjoys flying, reading, and wandering around the city.

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