The United States is closing its airspace to all Russian aircraft as punishment for invading Ukraine, President Joe Biden said in his State of the Union address to the nation Tuesday night.
“I am announcing that we will join our allies in closing off American airspace to all Russian flights — further isolating Russia — and adding an additional squeeze on their economy,” the president said.
The decision brings the U.S. in solidarity with the European Union, Canada, the United Kingdom, Nordic and Baltic states, and other countries that previously barred Russian-owned, -registered, -operated or -chartered aircraft from overflights, as well as landings and takeoffs on their territory.
Russia is expected to reciprocate with a flight ban on U.S. aircraft, which will complicate operations for American passenger and cargo airlines that typically fly through Russian airspace to reach destinations in Asia and India. Carriers will be forced to detour around Russia, which could add 30 minutes to an hour of flying time and increase fuel consumption.
A U.S. ban eliminates the ability of Volga-Dnepr Airlines to operate specialized aircraft under charter to domestic companies with unique cargo needs that U.S. carriers can’t meet. The Russian all-cargo carrier operates a fleet of Ukrainian-built Antonov An-124 freighters that can carry wider and taller loads than a Boeing 747. The planes are frequently recruited to move electric generators, gas turbines, yachts, helicopters, fire engines and other out-of-gauge shipments.
Boeing (NYSE: BA) will have to find another way to ship wing boxes for its 767 aircraft, large manufacturing equipment and spare parts from the Seattle area to South Florida. Volga-Dnepr was in the process of securing a routine exemption from the Department of Transportation to conduct a dozen flights later this month to move the equipment.
The application said Boeing needed the special transport flights to prevent any delay in manufacturing.
Boeing only uses Volga-Dnepr a handful of times per year to transport parts and components for its manufacturing program.
“We’ll work closely with our wide range of supply chain and logistics partners to manage through any potential impacts,” Boeing said in a statement provided to FreightWaves.
One option could be to deploy its own Large Cargo Freighter, crewed by Atlas Air (NASDAQ: AAWW), which is regularly used to move components between suppliers and assembly plants.
Another possibility could be Ukraine’s Antonov Airlines, which also operates a handful of An-124 freighters and was able to relocate some of them before hostilities began in Ukraine. Whether Antonov Airlines has availability or can be hired is an open question.
GE Aviation (NYSE: GE) recently hired Volga-Dnepr to move engines from Ohio to Boeing plants in Washington state.
Boeing also said it is suspending parts, maintenance and technical support for Russian airlines and stopped operations at its Moscow Training Center in response to the invasion of Ukraine, further diminishing the Russian aviation sector’s ability to function.
“As the conflict continues, our teams are focused on ensuring the safety of our teammates in the region,” Boeing said in the statement.
The airframer’s decision means Volga-Dneper subsidiary AirBridgeCargo wont’ be able to get parts and support for its large fleet of Boeing 747-400, 747-8 and 777 freighters.
United Airlines earlier on Tuesday said it had stopped flying through Russian airspace, joining other U.S. airlines that did so sooner, according to Reuters.
Tit-for-tat closures of Russian and European airspace is forcing airlines to make difficult rerouting decisions. Northern and southern Russia routes are heavily used by freighters flying between Asia, and Europe and North America.
Air cargo volumes increased 7% last year, and the sanctions are removing vital cargo capacity at a time when there still aren’t enough aircraft to meet demand.