With new European Union sanctions looming over Russia, the country has announced that it considered blocking international flights through its airspace. Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev referred to Western airlines in general, but in reality such restrictions would mainly hit European airlines which offer direct flights to Asia. The necessity to “bypass our airspace … could drive many struggling airlines into bankruptcy,” Medvedev was quoted as saying Monday in the Russian business newspaper Vedomosti.
But is that likely to happen, given what we know about the significance of Russia’s airspace?
Banning Western airlines could indeed pose a serious problem to them, given the fact that Russia is the world’s largest country in terms of land mass and is between East Asia and Europe. However, such sanctions could also have a backlash on Russia. Here are three main aspects we should keep in mind:
Russia’s airspace is frequently used by European airlines
Medvedev did not specify whether “Western airlines” also incorporated the ones of Western allies such as South Korea. If we assume that potential sanctions were quite limited and only affected European airlines, we can distinguish which flights would be impacted. A visual analysis of all planes over European and particularly Russian airspace compared to all planes operated by the 60 largest European airlines on Monday 2 p.m. shows that the amount of planes seems manageable, at least at first glimpse.
However, data provided to WorldViews by Flightradar24.com for Sept. 1 show that European and U.S. airlines actually account for the majority of foreign flights operated over Russia. The airlines that would most likely be affected by sanctions are highlighted in red: