European airlines face the threat of Russia closing its airspace in response to tougher EU sanctions intended to punish it for its recent actions in Ukraine.
Russian prime minister Dmitry Medvedev said the country would be forced to respond “asymmetrically” if sanctions targeted its energy industry or financial sector.
He told the business daily Vedomosti: “We proceed from the fact that we have friendly relations with our partners, and that is why the sky over Russia is open for flights. But if they put limits on us we will have to respond.”
He added that a ban could mean that “many airlines” would go bankrupt.
The Russian government said last month that it was considering closing its airspace beyond the Urals to European airlines, forcing them to take longer and more expensive long-haul routes to Asia. Lufthansa said at the time that 180 of its flights used Siberian airspace each week.
US carriers have been banned from Siberian airspace for years, but had been pushing Moscow to review its stance.
An outright ban for European airlines would mark a return to the Cold War era when most western airlines had to fly to the Far East via the Gulf or over the Arctic and Alaska, the Times reported.
The Gulf route has become a narrower, more congested corridor because of most international carriers’ decision to stop flying over east Ukraine and Iraq for security reasons.
However, the closure of airspace would also damage the Russian economy. A deal struck in the 1970s that enables European airlines to cut up to 2,500 miles from each trip to Asia brings in an estimated £185 million a year in fees paid to Aeroflot.
Sourced from Travel Weekly