Some Asia-Pacific Airlines Alter Schedules To Avoid Russian Airspace

Japan Airlines is now flying to London over Alaska to avoid Russian airspace.
Credit: Joe Pries

Japan’s major airlines are canceling most of their flights to Europe due to the war in Ukraine, while other Asia-Pacific carriers are also making significant changes to their European routes.

Some Asian airlines have canceled or rerouted flights that would normally fly over Russia. Others are continuing to fly through Russian airspace but have contingency plans in place to change flight routes if needed. 

Japan Airlines (JAL) canceled flights between Tokyo and London, Moscow, Paris, Helsinki and Frankfurt that were scheduled for March 3. Some were due to be cargo-only flights on one or both legs.

On March 4 the airline also canceled the Moscow, Paris, Helsinki and Frankfurt routes. One London return flight was canceled, but another between Tokyo and London will still be operated with a different route and longer flight time.

Instead of flying west over Russia, the direct London flight will be routed northwards to pass over Alaska. This means the flight time will be nearly three hours longer outbound, and 4 hrs. 30 min. longer on the return.

The carrier has yet to announce a decision on its European flights for March 5 and beyond.

JAL had already decided to suspend codesharing with its partners British Airways and Finnair on JAL’s European flights between Feb. 28 and March 26.

This step was due to Russian moves to restrict the passage of European airlines in Russian airspace. JAL said it wanted to avoid the suspension of its operations by the Russian authorities.

All Nippon Airways (ANA) has also canceled most of its European flights that would usually overfly Russia.

The canceled flights on March 3-5 are on routes between Tokyo and Frankfurt, London and Paris, although some of the routes were not due to operate on all three days.

ANA will still operate a Tokyo-Brussels flight on March 4 that will return as an all-cargo flight, and a return flight on the same route on March 5. The carrier said the Brussels flights will be rerouted over central Asia.

Three ANA all-cargo return flights were also canceled on March 3.

In an earlier move, Singapore Airlines suspended all return services between Singapore and Moscow from Feb. 28, for what it referred to as “operational reasons.”

There are no changes to SIA’s other European flights. The carrier does not have any routes that traverse Ukraine or fly near the Russia-Ukraine border region, and after the suspension of the Moscow flights it has no routes in Russian airspace.

Qantas has changed the routing of its flights between Darwin, Australia and London since Feb. 27. The carrier said it is using one of its alternate flight paths that does not overfly Russia “given the current circumstances and complexities.”

This flight previously operated over the northern part of Russia, and is instead using a route through the Middle East and Southern Europe. This increases flying time by about an hour.

Korean Air’s Moscow flights are operating as normal for now and the carrier’s European services continue to overfly Russia. Korean Air does not have any flights that are routed over the current restricted airspace in Ukraine and part of Russia.

Korean Air notes that if the entire Russian airspace was to be closed, most of its European flights would be affected. The carrier is developing contingency plans for flight operations in case of such an event.

Malaysia Airlines said its flights to London remain as scheduled. The carrier said it “continues to avoid the airspace over Ukraine, Belarus and Russia for all its flights to/from European destinations.”

Adrian Schofield

Adrian is a senior air transport editor for Aviation Week, based in New Zealand. He covers commercial aviation in the Asia-Pacific region.