The World Forum - May 26th, 2024

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Canadians will have to pay more for longer flights after Russia bans planes from airspace


Russia barred Canadian, American, British and European Union operators from its airspace more than a year ago in response to airspace prohibitions against it by those states and others that support Ukraine, after Moscow invaded its neighbour in February 2022.

European airlines are among the most affected, having to reroute planes on hours-long detours to reach Asia and parts of the Middle East.

But Canadian carriers are impacted too, with planes en route to East Asia and South Asia forced to skirt around Russian airspace daily, and no sign of relief on the radar. The detours mean longer trips, greater fuel and labour costs and ultimately higher fares for passengers amid soaring inflation and already pricey international travel.

Flight paths to Asia don’t cut straight across the Pacific Ocean, but rather run the shortest possible distance by tracing an arc through the Arctic — and, before the airspace bans, through eastern Russia.

The adjusted routes, marked on flight-tracking apps that show a steady stream of jetliners skirting Russian airspace over the Bering Sea, can be 10 per cent longer in distance than before the war. That applies for flights from Vancouver to Hong Kong or from Toronto to Delhi, said Robert Kokonis, president of consulting firm AirTrav Inc. Other non-stop routes, such as Vancouver to Bangkok or Seoul, would also need a course correction.

The extra fuel burned as a result is no rounding error. Though down from its peak last June, jet fuel’s price of US$2.68 per gallon in March still marks a 41 per cent jump from four years earlier.

One-way Air Canada fares from Vancouver to Hong Kong rose 41 per cent between January 2019 and January 2023, according to flight data firm Cirium. The airline’s flights from Toronto to Delhi cost 47 per cent more over the same time period.