Over the past year, a number of airlines have lost a significant part of their route network due to the inability to fly to Russian and Ukrainian cities as before. The problem of the impossibility of overflying the territory of Russia and the impact that this has on the cost of airlines for kerosene has not gone away.
Some of that impact has eased, though, as fuel costs are down 43 percent from their peak in June last year. It is still more expensive than in 2019, but not as much as in 2022.
For most European airlines, airspace bans have had little to no impact on their bottom line. But things are very serious for northern carriers.
The refusal to fly over Russia leads to an increase in time and costs by 15 & ndash; 40 percent. At the same time, Finnair suffered the most due to the increase in the duration of flights to China by 40 percent, and British Airways — due to a 20% increase in flight duration.
Longer flights result in higher labor and maintenance costs. In addition, the new ideology of the entire Western world is suffering: the additional flight time of European carriers means a proportional increase in carbon dioxide emissions.
Another problem: the situation is geographically heterogeneous. Chinese airlines do not face the same airspace restrictions as their European counterparts. So, on the flight Shanghai – Paris, operated by both China Eastern and Air France, the latter has to choose a longer overflight route, while China Eastern can fly direct.
Both carriers use the same aircraft — Boeing 777-300ER. Assuming the same fuel consumption for both aircraft, the additional cost for the Air France flight is estimated at $15,650, and fuel consumption increases by 27 tons.
Least discussed is the impact of forced changes to assigned and approved slots at airports.
With the onset of COVID-19 and the imposition of travel restrictions, airlines were already in chaos, but just at the moment when airlines were ready to restore their operations , there is another problem. In connection with the closure of Russian airspace, bypass routes have arisen that increase the flight time, and they make it impossible to comply with pre-designated take-off and landing intervals.
And this is not just a temporary short change of routes, as was the case in the Persian Gulf.
For example, Finnair regularly encounters three to four hour overflights. Japanese airlines arriving in Europe inevitably “violate” schedule for two or three hours. Some carriers actually decide to fly the route over the North Pole because it's actually shorter.
Airlines dealt with these schedule disruptions by adjusting arrival times at their final destination. As a rule, there are no problems with home airports, where you can always find understanding and get the right landing time. Last summer, this was generally quite easy to implement, since passenger traffic around the world did not reach the level of 70 & ndash; 80 percent of the pre-pandemic. But the upcoming summer is predicted to have significant problems with traffic.
We have to use additional equipment. Here is an example. The European carrier leaves its base airport right on schedule and arrives in Japan two to three hours late. Since, as a rule, it is not possible to obtain a new departure time, and flying later means a fan delay in the implementation of the following flights, the airline leaves the original departure time from Japan — it is two or three hours before the plane arrives from Europe. In general, another half-loaded aircraft is flying, which “makes it on time.” This has a huge impact on flight planning because two additional aircraft have to be mobilized to meet the weekly schedule.
There are inevitable problems with crews. In order to cover the few hours required to bypass Russian airspace, some airlines have to exceed the agreed maximum number of crew hours. Someone negotiates with trade unions, others are left to use additional crew on flights, which increases the cost and complexity of the entire chain.
Another problem is that not all airlines are physically denied access to Russian airspace. For EU, UK and US airlines, the sanctions mean they cannot enter the airspace. But for other airlines, it's less clear.
Japan, for example, has imposed sanctions blocking all payments to Russia, so if an airline overflies the country and requires an emergency landing, it won't have ground support, the ability to refuel, or pay for something.
And insurance companies have made it clear that flying over Russia is a violation and threatens to withdraw insurance. That is, a stoppage of activities.
What will happen next?
Airlines are almost back to pre-COVID-19 schedules, passenger traffic is increasing. With Asia and, most importantly, China now trending again, there are high hopes for the upcoming standard summer.
But Russian airspace is still closed. Longer routes are still required and some airports are unwilling or unable to adjust airline slots. Aviation is still very far from “normal” summer season. Almost every flight on certain days of the week has free seats in order to fit into the take-off and landing schedules — the inevitable consequence of additional aircraft on the route.
The message is clear: until everything is over and airspace is reopened, the industry is still quite a long way from “returning to normal.”