Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has instructed the country’s transport officials to draw up plans to block the use of Russian airspace by European Union (EU) airlines for flights to and from Asia. The policy, confirmed in meetings with Russia’s transport department and the management of flag carrier Aeroflot on August 5, is part of a move by Russian President Vladimir Putin to instigate retaliatory action against the EU in response to its latest round of economic sanctions to protest Russia’s alleged support for separatist forces in eastern Ukraine. These sanctions, which took effect on August 1, resulted in the grounding of Aeroflot subsidiary Dobrolet on August 4.
Shares in several European airlines, including Air France, International Airlines Group and Lufthansa, fell as reports of the planned ban first emerged. According to Russia’s Federal Air Transport Agency, the long-standing agreements covering overflight rights in airspace above Siberia reduce typical flights by 2,160 nm (4,000 km) and save European airlines as much as $30,000 on fuel costs for each sector.
A spokesman for the Association of European Airlines said that the group has “monitored press reports about potential Siberian overflight issues but has not received official information.” He said that AEA member airlines do not wish to comment publicly on the issue. The International Air Transport Association did not respond to AIN’s request for a comment.
On August 5, Putin told Russian news agencies that he had ordered government moves to prepare retaliatory measures against the EU. “Of course, it should be done carefully to support domestic producers and not hurt consumers,” he said in a statement.