Western airlines should resume flights over Russia, because the skies over Europe are becoming increasingly crowded, the head of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) said on Tuesday.
“We should be looking to reopen Russian airspace to have it accessible to all airlines to transit through the traditional Siberian overflights, so that Europe can access Asia in the most efficient way possible,” Willie Walsh told a press briefing in Geneva.
- “If you look at the closure of Ukrainian airspace, Russian airspace and other parts of the world, the amount of traffic that’s flowing through Europe has increased over certain routes and that’s not sustainable,” he added.
- Russian airspace, spanning 11 time zones and providing the shortest route from Europe to Asia, was closed to Western airlines in response to sanctions imposed shortly after the start of the Ukraine conflict in February.
Middle Eastern and Chinese airlines have continued to fly over Russia, but flights from China have been limited due to Beijing’s strict COVID-19 restrictions.
However, Walsh expects China to ease their policies over the coming year, which would allow more people to travel. This, in turn, would give Chinese airlines an advantage over European rivals, whose flights are currently plagued by delays as they avoid Russian airspace.
- “As we see China relax restrictions and reopen, then the issue of access through Russian airspace becomes a bigger question for the European carriers, particularly if it remains open for Chinese carriers to fly to Europe,” Walsh stated.
He noted, however, that the resumption of flights over Russia should not happen until the conflict in Ukraine is over.