American carriers are losing as much as $2 billion annually in market share to competitors not forced to avoid Russian airspace
The US Transportation Department is considering a ban on the use of Russian airspace for Chinese airlines that fly passengers to the US, three officials from the administration of President Joe Biden told the New York Times on Friday. An order that would impose on Chinese competitors the same restrictions on using Russian airspace faced by US airlines was reportedly presented to members of the national security team and others last Monday.
The proposal is the result of lobbying by US air carriers, who have lost as much as $2 billion annually in market share to foreign competitors not subject to the US' ban on flying over Russian territory, according to industry trade group Airlines for America. A spokeswoman for the group confirmed it wants the Biden administration to "take action to ensure that foreign carriers overflying Russia do not depart, land or transit through US airports."
Airlines such as China Eastern, Emirates and Air India, whose home countries are not involved in the Ukraine conflict, have enjoyed a boom in business, since they can fly the shortest route from one destination to another without the need to circumvent Russia's vast territory.
American carriers, on the other hand, have had to run long-haul flights with dozens of seats empty in the hope of making the plane light enough that it won't require refueling on the increasingly circuitous routes required to avoid no-go zones, airline sources told the Times. Even then, an extra stop is often required for personnel reasons. Barred from the most direct routes to Asia, US carriers have had to shelve plans to offer direct service to more than a dozen hotspots such as Tokyo, Seoul, and Mumbai, abandoning those routes to competitors.
Airlines for America has sought to convince passengers who balk at spending the extra several hundred dollars and hours in the air that flying over Russia is actually dangerous, pointing to the downing of MH17 over Ukraine in 2014 and the arrest of US women's basketball star Brittney Griner at a Moscow airport last year. However, the Dutch team tasked with finding proof of Russia's culpability in the MH17 incident suspended its investigation last month, having been unable to produce conclusive evidence, while many "safe" countries impose much more severe penalties - up to and including execution by firing squad - on foreigners caught with illegal drugs.
Russia closed its airspace to US airlines last March after Washington imposed its own ban on Russian aircraft flying over US territory.