Analysis – The most important Asian routes from Germany pass through Russian airspace

Europe has closed its airspace to Russian planes as part of a sanctions package in the wake of Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine. As a result, Russia is now blocking planes operated by European airlines.

This means that direct air traffic between Europe and Russia is currently completely flat, which leads to restrictions in Germany in particular, the most important EU air traffic market from Russia. However, this market is mainly shaped by Russian providers, as a current evaluation shows.

This imbalance in direct traffic has never particularly bothered the German side in the negotiations about air traffic rights with Russia, learned from informed circles.

The primary goal of the Germans was therefore always that German airlines, above all Lufthansa, receive enough overflight rights via Russia to the Far East.

The most frequented routes

This is understandable, because the air corridors over Russia are important for European airlines such as Lufthansa, British Airways, KLM or Air France if they want to fly to Asia. And they want that, because the flight routes between Europe and Asia were recently – i.e. before Corona – the most in demand worldwide.

Before the pandemic, Lufthansa alone had almost 200 weekly rotations via Siberia to China, Japan and Korea. These are also the most frequently flown routes to Asia from Germany, as this list of the top 10 Asian destinations shows:

In the case of destinations such as Korea, a northern alternative route is often possible from northern Europe. Alternatively, flights from Germany to China and Japan can be planned via the Middle East, which means significantly longer flight times and more kerosene consumption compared to routing to Russia.

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When asked about Lufthansa, it was said that in all likelihood there could be delays to destinations such as Seoul and Tokyo-Haneda. A flight cancellation is “hardly to be expected”.

Other destinations from other source regions in Europe are also affected by the airspace closure. When British Airways now flies from London to Delhi, for example, the planes take almost an hour longer and fly a detour of almost 900 kilometers.

From Germany, on the other hand, destinations such as India, Singapore or Thailand can still be reached without major detours, as these exemplary great circle plots show:

Finnair particularly affected

The overflight ban hits the northern European airlines Finnair, SAS and Lot much harder than Lufthansa, which has long been passing a number of Asian flights from Munich and Vienna airports south of Russia. So far, they have largely done their business in Asia with flights via Siberia and cannot simply switch to other flight routes.

Finnair ad: Almost all long-haul routes go through Russia.

© Finnair


Although the Asian market has not yet picked up momentum due to Corona, the consequences are already clear here. SAS has canceled its Japan flights and flies long detours to Shanghai.

Finnair has even had to cancel all flights to Japan, Korea and China and has consequently rejected all financial forecasts for 2022. The share price collapsed by a quarter after the airspace closures and has not recovered since.

Finnair had recently positioned itself as an Asia specialist and strategically set up Helsinki as an Asia hub. Now Finnair has to reschedule – in case the current situation lasts longer.

But then the new situation would have far-reaching consequences, also for completely different airlines.

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