© Ajdibilio 777 emirates
© Ajdibilio

International airlines flying to the US from countries “that continue to do business with Russia” are facing the prospect of having to take longer routes after senators called for a ban on their use of Russian airspace.

In a rare display of bipartisan collaboration in Washington, two senators, a Democrat and a Republican, have written to the secretary for transportation and secretary of state asking for a ban.

They argue that the current situation puts US carriers at a disadvantage as they are prohibited by Moscow from using Russian airspace, forcing them to take longer routes to a string of international destinations, such as cities in China.

“An additional by-product of the current situation is that it puts US airlines at a competitive disadvantage relative to airlines from other countries willing to do business with Russia,” they wrote.

Currently, US carriers fly to Shanghai with a stopover in Seoul, as the longer flying distance extends beyond the time limits for flight crew. Like their European counterparts, also banned from Russian airspace, they have to contend with payload restrictions.

Lufthansa Cargo admitted last week the additional flying time required to go around Russian airspace has cost it the capacity equivalent of 1.6 freighters.

Last year Cathay Pacific routed a flight from New York to Hong Kong over the Atlantic and Europe that took 17 hours – two hours more than the direct ‘Polar route’ over Siberia.

Without question, Chinese carriers are the senators’ primary target. They traverse Russian airspace on their way to North America, allowing them shorter flying time and the ability to carry larger payloads.

Russia has not barred Asian airlines from its airspace, but most of them have opted for longer routes, citing safety concerns. International airlines that are operating through Russian airspace are predominantly from China, India and the Middle East. Emirates is reportedly using this routing for its flights to New York and the US west coast.

Cathay Pacific shifted away from the direct route last March but announced in October that it would resume flying on the original route, citing shorter travel time for passengers, better payload and no need to change crews.

Neither Cathay nor Emirates responded to requests for comment from The Loadstar.

US airlines referred The Loadstar to Airlines for America, the airline interest group that represents all major US carriers, including the integrators. It has welcomed the letter, saying it “underscores our industry’s long-standing concern regarding Russian overflights, which have put US airlines – passenger and cargo – at a competitive disadvantage”.

It endorsed the senators’ call to ban international airlines that overfly Russia from landing at or departing from US airports.

If the US administration were to agree the proposal, presumably many of the affected airlines would adopt a longer routing to continue serving the US market, although the tension between Washington and Beijing suggests Chinese carriers might suspend their US flights.

Passenger flights between the two nations are currently still hamstrung by flight restrictions implemented during Covid. In February there were 48 passenger flights from the US to China, compared with 1,255 in February 2019. United Airlines, which was running four weekly flights to China last year, has reportedly delayed planned increases in China flights, due to start this month, by at least six months.

The new push will not do anything to defuse the increasingly confrontational nature of US-China relations. Nor will a new regulation in the US that requires a new data field on imports from China. Since 3 March, US Customs & Border Protection requires a valid postcode on all goods originating in China to supplement the amended Manufacturer Identification Number data for imports. This will detain goods from China where a postcode linked to the Uyghur region, or an invalid code has been submitted.

Goods produced in Xinjiang are subject to the Uyghur Forced Labour Prevention Act, which automatically assumes that goods produced in that Chinese province have been manufactured with forced labour.

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