Airspace Closures Add Flight Hours For Corporations

Delta Air Lines route map
A Delta Air Lines route map shows northerly flights crossing Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula.
Credit: Delta Air Lines

The closure of Russian airspace stemming from that country’s invasion of Ukraine is forcing international operators to divert from traditional routes between the U.S. to India and the Asia-Pacific region, adding hours to their flight time, says a corporate flight department chief pilot.

“The closure of Russian airspace has really affected quite a few operators,” said John Tuten, Honeywell International flight operations chief pilot. “It’s closed off about 50% of the international routes we would normally fly coming from the U.S. to India and coming from the west coast of the U.S. to the Asia-Pacific region. It’s also severely affected those [operators] that are flying in the Asia-Pacific region when they’re trying to get anywhere northbound. In some instances, it’s adding five hours of flight time to their flights.”

Tuten was among panelists who spoke March 4 during an NBAA News Hour webinar on the Ukraine crisis and its ramifications for business aviation. “Our analysis is [airspace closures are] affecting us by adding one to two hours to the flights we’re trying to do,” he said.

Following Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine, the European Union, Canada, the U.S. and other countries banned Russian-owned or operated aircraft from their airspace, prompting Russia to close its own airspace to other countries. The conflict has caused the complete closure of Ukrainian, Moldovan and portions of Russian and Belarusian airspace, complicating options to overfly Europe.

According to OpsGroup, a membership organization of pilots, flight dispatchers, schedulers and controllers, carriers are now following two major corridors that skirt the Russian land mass to the south—one that extends from the Persian Gulf to Romania, the other from China to the Black Sea.

Honeywell International has continued to fly into countries that border the conflict, including Romania. The Charlotte, North Carolina-based conglomerate says it has been active since 1997 in Romania, where it employs several thousand people and operates manufacturing facilities in Bucharest and Lugoj. In December 2021, the company opened its first European security operations center for cybersecurity in Bucharest.

Before operating to an international destination, the corporate flight department seeks guidance from four sources—Honeywell’s own Global Security Operations Center, external security analysts, OpsGroup and international trip service providers, Tuten said. 

Separately, EASA on March 3 launched a European Information Sharing and Cooperation Platform on Conflict Zones in partnership with Osprey Flight Solutions, a UK-based aviation risk analysis company. 

The new platform is part of a multi-layered European strategy to improve information sharing on conflict zones, initiated by the shootdown of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine in July 2014, EASA said. A Dutch-led joint investigation team determined that a Russian-made Buk surface-to-air missile fired from territory controlled by Russian-backed separatists brought the airliner down.

Go or no-go decisions at Honeywell are made jointly by the flight department and the executives it transports. “We have a shared responsibility with our users, our corporate officers,” Tuten said. “They have a security group that they deal with internally in the company that offers them advice just like we get advice. Basically, we compare notes ... with either party having veto rights over whether the mission is safe or not.”

The Ukraine crisis will be a focus of the NBAA International Operators Conference March 14-16 in Los Angeles, said Tuten, who chairs the association’s international operations committee.

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.