Transport Airlines

United and Delta Rethink Russian Routes as Putin Plans Airspace Closure

Aug 07, 2014 5:12 pm

Skift Take

Considering the lethal means by which Russia has decided to deal with passenger aircraft, this is a good idea.

— Jason Clampet

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Aleksey Nikolskyi  / RIA Novosti/Kremlin

Russia's President Vladimir Putin sits in a chair. Aleksey Nikolskyi / RIA Novosti/Kremlin


United Airlines and Delta Air Lines are evaluating options for re-routing flights that may be affected if Russia closes Siberian airspace to carriers from North America and Europe.

Such a ban is “on the table” as Russia considers next steps after banning imports of an array of foods from Europe, the U.S., Canada and Australia, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev told Russia’s cabinet today. Aviation manufacturing, shipbuilding and auto industries also may be targeted, he said. Such a restriction would impact hundreds of weekly operations by North American and European passenger and cargo carriers.

“We’re concerned that this ban will affect our ability to fly certain routes as currently planned,” Christen David, a spokeswoman for Chicago-based United Continental Holdings Inc., said in an e-mail. “We are evaluating options for each route that may be affected.”

United hasn’t yet determined the number of its flights that may be covered by such a ban, David said.

Delta Air Lines Inc. said a ban over Russian Siberia airspace could alter flight paths of 12 routes to and from the U.S. and Asia.

“Delta is prepared to quickly make alternate routings around closed airspace if necessary,” Morgan Durrant, a Delta spokesman, said in an e-mailed response to questions.

Russia’s actions are in response to sanctions imposed on it by the U.S., European Union and other countries over the standoff in the Ukraine and the downing of a Malaysian Airline System Bhd. plane. Medvedev already imposed a ban on Ukrainian aircraft flying over Russia.

Unintended Consequence

“Aviation is a global industry with airlines around the world using overflights every day in the course of transporting people and goods,” said Victoria Day, spokeswoman for Airlines for America, an industry trade group. “It would be unfortunate if Russia made a decision that would have the unintended consequence of impacting people and economies around the world, including its own.”

United Parcel Service Inc. has “contingency plans in place” to reroute planes should restrictions be placed on its flights into or over Russia, said Andy McGowan, a spokesman for the Atlanta-based company, without providing specifics

American Airlines Group Inc. confirmed some of its flights traverse Russian airspace and declined further comment. FedEx Corp., the world’s largest cargo carrier, said flights in the region are operating normally now and that it’s monitoring the situation in Russia.

Broad Siberian airspace restrictions would harm European carriers more than U.S. airlines, said Daniel Friedenzohn, assistant professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida. Germany’s Deutsche Lufthansa AG operates about 180 flights a week in the area, he said.

“With that amount at stake, it could get pretty expensive and that’s just from a fuel standpoint” as carriers are forced to take longer routes around Siberian airspace, he said.

To contact the reporters on this story: Mary Schlangenstein in Dallas at maryc.s@bloomberg.net; Caelainn Barr in New York at cbarr15@bloomberg.net. To contact the editors responsible for this story: Ed Dufner at edufner@bloomberg.net. 

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