Two major European airlines flying to Russia have now received approval to fly to the country while bypassing Belarusian airspace. Airlines, including Air France and Lufthansa, faced canceled flights and the potential for knock-on effects for other flights going through Russian airspace.
Air France and Lufthansa can resume flights
A report in Reuters states that European giants Air France and Lufthansa have received approval from Russia to route flights to the country while avoiding Belarusian airspace. Air France, in particular, faced denials operating to the country, leading to flight cancellations.
Air France has resumed flights to Moscow, starting with a Boeing 787-operate flight from Paris. Lufthansa is also flying again to Moscow, rerouting to avoid Belarusian airspace.
Russia cited delays in permits for denying flights from Air France and Lufthansa subsidiary Austrian Airlines to run operations to Russia around Belarus. The country cited increasing demand for new routes in the country as a reason for delays, including from European airlines looking to avoid overflying Belarus.
This is great news for European airlines. With some hope on the horizon for summer travel to come back, airlines are looking to operate more flights to and from more destinations. The good news for airlines is that this delay with Russia appeared not to be retaliation against the EU warning airlines not to overfly Belarus, but instead seemed to be a delay in paperwork.
New tracks around Belarus
Air France and Lufthansa used to route flights to Russia through Belarus, creating a more direct track. However, after the forced landing of a Ryanair flight in Minsk last week, Europe was in shock and acted swiftly.
On May 26th, three days after Ryanair flight FR4978 was forced to land in Minsk, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) issued a bulletin advising EU-based operators to avoid operations in Belarusian airspace for the foreseeable future. Other individual countries have banned operations from Belarusian airlines.
The new routes around Belarus are less direct, adding some time to the flights. However, in the case of both flights, the track around Belarus adds only a few minutes to the flight time.
Airspace closures do happen
Airspace closures do occur for a variety of reasons. In cases such as this one, the safety and security of passenger operations come first and foremost, leading the EU and other countries to advise their airlines to avoid flying over Belarus. In the wake of the shoot-down of MH17 over Ukraine in 2014, EASA also recommended European airlines to avoid flying over eastern Ukraine.
Other airspace closures happen because a country or air traffic area decides to shut down. For example, in 2019, Pakistan shut down its airspace for several months following military tensions between India. Since the start of the pandemic in the United States, some air traffic control centers have had to close to accommodate cleaning facilities after controllers test positive.
Most airspace closures generally happen with relatively short notice, affecting flight schedules and leading to delays or cancellations. However, there are things airlines can do to avoid the sudden nature of closures. Some airlines, for example, refuse to fly over conflict zones, even those that may not pose a threat to civil aviation, to avoid last-minute closures or incidents.
In general, if airspace does close, there are usually ways to route around it. While it may take longer for people to get where they need to go, there is little airlines can do when airspace is closed or if there are strong warnings against operating over a given area.