Russia bans British airlines from its airspace

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British Airways flightImage source, Getty Images

British airlines have been banned from landing at Russia's airports and from crossing its airspace, the Russian civil aviation regulator has said.

Russia said the move was a response to "the unfriendly decisions by the UK aviation authorities".

On Thursday, the UK banned Russia's national airline Aeroflot from landing in Britain.

The measure was part of sanctions introduced following Moscow's invasion of Ukraine.

UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace told ITV: "I think that's their retaliation for us yesterday banning Aeroflot from using and landing in the United Kingdom. That's their tit for tat response."

Russia's civil aviation authority Rosaviatsia said the measure was taken "as a response to unfriendly decisions by the UK aviation authorities regarding the restriction on regular flights of aircraft owned, leased or operated by a person associated with Russia or registered in Russia".

British Airways said in a statement it was notifying customers on cancelled services and would offer full refunds.

"We apologise for the inconvenience but this is clearly a matter beyond our control," the airline said.

British Airways normally operates three flights per week each way between London and Moscow.

Following Russia's announcement, Virgin Atlantic also said flight paths had been adjusted for some of its services between the UK, Pakistan and India. Flight times on these routes will be extended by between 15 minutes and an hour.

Virgin Atlantic apologised for the delays, adding: "The safety and security of our customers and people always comes first and we're monitoring the situation in Ukraine and Russia extremely carefully following the escalation of conflict."

Virgin Atlantic's cargo-only flights between London Heathrow and Shanghai, which normally operate four times a week, have also been suspended.

Tracking data from Flightradar24 showed BA and Virgin Atlantic between Delhi, Islamabad and London are taking southern routes to avoid Russian airspace.

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Data provider Cirium said Aeroflot and British Airways were the only carriers to have flown passengers between the UK and Russia over the past week.

In the past seven days, there had been a total of 24 passenger flights scheduled between the UK and Russia.

In January, there were 93 passenger flights scheduled between the two countries.

In a further blow to Aeroflot, football club Manchester United terminated their sponsorship deal with the Russian airline.

Aeroflot had been United's official carrier since 2013 and the latest deal was due to run until 2023.

United renewed the deal in 2015, signing a five-year extension reported to be worth $40m (£29.9m).

Aeroflot has been running more passenger services between the UK and Russia than British Airways. So in that regard, it is more affected than its British counterpart.

However, Russia banning British airlines from crossing its airspace means re-routing some flights, adding time and fuel costs.

It is not just about passenger services. Virgin Atlantic is still not sure if it will be able to re-route its cargo-only flights to China.

One analyst told me that overall, the impact would be less than if it had happened before the pandemic. But they added that the issues could come where airlines had planned to restart routes, as the network returned to normal.

Ukraine's airspace closed on Thursday after Russian forces launched a military invasion of the country.

Moldova also said it was closing its airspace and Belarus shut part of its airspace on Thursday.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said on Friday that his government would also prepare a resolution which will result in closing Poland's airspace for Russian airlines.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency has warned of safety risks in flying in airspace near to Ukraine's borders, including in Russia.

"There is a risk of both intentional targeting and misidentification of civil aircraft," the regulator said on Thursday.

"The presence and possible use of a wide range of ground and airborne warfare systems poses a high risk for civil flights operating at all altitudes and flight levels."

The US Federal Aviation Administration has also expanded the area where it says US airlines cannot operate in and near Ukraine.

Prior to Ukraine closing its airspace on Thursday, some carriers had already decided to divert flights from the region.

Dutch operator KLM was the first major airline to suspend flights to the capital Kyiv on 14 February and German airline Lufthansa followed.

Ryanair, the largest airline which flies between Europe and Ukraine, continued operating flights until Ukraine closed the airspace. Wizz Air, the second largest operator of flights between those routes. also stopped services on Thursday.

Malaysia Airlines crash

The industry is alert to the risks posed since the passenger flight MH17 was shot down in Ukraine airspace in 2014.

A missile brought down the Malaysia Airlines passenger plane killing all 298 people on board. It was en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur.

It came amid heavy fighting between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian separatists in the Donbass region, which had just declared independence.

International investigators tracked the missile that was used to Russia, which has denied any involvement.

Russia attacks Ukraine: More coverage