Nav Canada Explains Aeroflot Airspace Violation

An Aeroflot Airbus A319 parked at the gate.
Credit: Bill Carey

The pilot of an Aeroflot airliner that violated Canadian airspace on Feb. 27 after it had been closed to all Russian aircraft declared the flight to be on a humanitarian mission, air navigation service provider (ANSP) Nav Canada said.  

Two other Russian aircraft departing from U.S. airports also attempted to declare themselves as humanitarian flights but were diverted around Canadian airspace, the privatized ANSP said Feb. 28.  

Aeroflot flight 111 (AFL111), an Airbus A350-900, departed Miami International Airport in the U.S. at 2:29 p.m. EST on Feb. 27 and flew a northeasterly arc over Canada and Greenland before entering northern Europe and landing at Moscow Sheremetyevo International Airport 11 hr., 34 min. later, according to flight tracking website FlightAware. That day, the Canadian government had ordered Canada’s airspace closed to all Russian-owned, chartered or operated aircraft in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine three days earlier.  

After it became aware of the flight, regulatory agency Transport Canada announced that it was “launching a review of the conduct of Aeroflot and the independent air navigation service provider NavCan, leading up to this violation. We will not hesitate to take appropriate enforcement action and other measures to prevent future violations.”  

Responding to the regulatory agency’s pronouncement, Nav Canada explained that it had issued a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) at Transport Canada’s request prohibiting Russian-owned, chartered or operated flights from entering, exiting or overflying Canadian airspace. The pilot of AFL111 was informed of the NOTAM as the airliner approached Canada, indicated he was not aware of the notice, and declared that the flight was humanitarian and would enter the airspace. Aeroflot had operated the Miami-to-Moscow flight, now listed as cancelled, three times a week.  

“Under normal circumstances, Nav Canada does not have the authority to deny airspace access to an airborne aircraft declaring itself a humanitarian flight, medical emergency/medevac or an emergency flight,” the ANSP said. “Nav Canada’s air traffic controllers therefore operated under existing protocols to accept the humanitarian flight declaration at face value and permit passage in accordance with international civil aviation protocols.”  

“Nav Canada’s priority at that point is to ensure the safety of all aircraft in the region and ensure proper separation of all aircraft until the flight in question leaves the airspace, which was done,” the ANSP added.  

Subsequent to AFL111, two other Russian aircraft departing from U.S. airports attempted to declare themselves humanitarian flights but were ordered around Canadian airspace by “neighboring air navigation service providers,” Nav Canada said.  

The Canadian ANSP said it is working collaboratively with Transport Canada and has issued a directive to its air traffic control units to ensure that processes are in place “to deny identifiable Russian aircraft access to Canadian airspace” unless there is prior approval.  

“Non-compliance events contrary to the restriction by the Government of Canada are to continue to be reported immediately to the Canadian Air Defense Sector and Transport Canada through already established protocols,” Nav Canada said.  

Bill Carey

Based in Washington, D.C., Bill covers business aviation and advanced air mobility for Aviation Week Network. A former newspaper reporter, he has also covered the airline industry, military aviation, commercial space and unmanned aircraft systems. He is the author of 'Enter The Drones, The FAA and UAVs in America,' published in 2016.