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"This story will affect everyone." How sanctions and restrictions affect Russian tourists and airlines


After the "special operation" in Ukraine and the imposition of sanctions, Russia found itself in an air blockade - the European Union, Switzerland, Canada and other countries closed their airspace for Russian airlines. In response, Russia closed its skies to air carriers from these countries.

At the same time more and more companies refuse to cooperate with Russian carriers. Thousands of Russian tourists cannot return home. Thus, Russian authorities are arranging outbound flights, as they did at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, but that experience may not come in handy.

"Pre-flight preparations began with the fact that there was information that Norway and Finland and other countries would close their airspace. At that time, the Baltics and Poland had already closed their skies. As it turned out, the Finns and Swedes had not closed the borders. We simply did not fly directly - the route was lengthened," describes his experience as a pilot of one of the Russian airlines. His crew was flying from Russia to the Dominican Republic one day after the start of the military operation.

"We flew into Finland and called on the satellite phone to the MCC that we were in their skies, no problems. Before that, there had been fears that we would have to fly through Murmansk to the north, roundabout. Of course we had the kerosene to perform this maneuver, but it all worked out.”

On the very first day of the military conflict - February 24 - the process of closing the skies to Russian airlines began. The next day, Russia responded by closing its skies - including for transit.

By the evening of February 28, the Federal Air Transport Agency announced that Russia had restricted flights of companies from 36 countries, as well as carriers from Switzerland.

On the same day, Russian companies canceled many flights to various destinations. So, Aeroflot announced the suspension of all flights to Europe from February 28. Later the company canceled its flights to the USA, Dominican Republic, Mexico and Cuba "due to closure of Canadian airspace" - but only until March 2.

"Ural Airlines, "due to the closure of the airspace of European countries," canceled its flights to Turkey, Hungary, Spain, Bulgaria, Israel, Cyprus, and Portugal. Azur Air canceled flights to Mexico, the Dominican Republic and Cuba. S7 extended the cancellation of flights to Europe until March 26.

Those flights that are allowed must choose longer routes than before. For example, a daytime Aeroflot Moscow-Istanbul flight on February 28 was 1 hour 20 minutes longer than usual, according to Flightradar service. The Cancun-Moscow flight on February 27 flew more than 12 hours instead of the usual 10,5. The flight to Istanbul bypassed Kazakhstan and Georgia, the Cancun flight entered Russia through the Murmansk region.

The increase in flight time also applies to domestic flights. For example, the Aeroflot Moscow-Sochi flight on February 28 took 1.5 hours longer than usual.

Since the start of the military conflict, the authorities have closed 11 airports in southern Russia. The restriction was initially imposed until March 2. On Tuesday, the Federal Air Transport Agency extended the ban until  March 8 Moscow 3:45 time .

The Sochi Airport has taken on the role of a hub - that is where the tourists are still being driven from the closed southern airports.

The airport of Mineralnye Vody has become another hub.

In some cases, the aircraft even changed their destination airport, apparently because of the new information about restrictions, which came in during the flight. Thus, according to the Flightradar service, the Aeroflot flight from Moscow to Frankfurt on February 27 returned back to Moscow. And the next day the flight from Moscow to Verona made several circles over the Turkish-Greek border and eventually landed in Istanbul.

Increase of flight time will mean additional kerosene consumption and the cost of the flight increases. According to the pilot who was contacted by the editorial board, his airplane consumes 7-8 tons of additional kerosene per 1 hour of flight. In January 2021 the average cost of one ton of kerosene in Russian airports was 63,336 thousand rubles (data from Federal Air Transport Agency).

Because of flight cancellations, many Russians can not return home on pre-purchased tickets.

According to the Association of Tour Operators of Russia (ATOR), more than 150 thousand Russian tourists were abroad at the night of February 27, 27 thousand of them - in countries with restrictions to fly back to Russia.

On the morning of March 1, the Federal Air Transport Agency spoke about the results of the meeting with Russian airlines. Russian authorities continue to work on the organization of humanitarian flights - in particular, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Federal Agency of Tourism are figuring out how many planes are needed for this purpose.

"Performance of humanitarian flights will be possible only if there will be positive decisions of aviation authorities of EU countries, from/through which these flights will be organized," the report says.

However, the Federal Air Transport Agency advises tourists, if possible, to return home on their own.

"Taking into account the experience of organizing such flights in 2020, data collection and processing requires time and the creation of special resources. In this regard, Russian citizens are advised to consider alternative routes to return home, which at the moment seems to be the most preferable," Rosaviatsia writes.


Restrictions inside the aviation sphere are superimposed on the measures that concern the Russian economy on the whole. The third package of anti-Russian sanctions, introduced by the European Commission, was published in the evening of February 25. According to it, the EU, in particular, forbids its companies to deliver goods for the aviation sphere to Russia - including aircrafts and parts to them. Leasing, insurance and other services are also banned. Deliveries may continue until March 28, 2022 - but only for contracts signed before February 26, 2022.

Russian airlines use 980 planes, of which 777 are leased, according to analyst firm Cirium, cited by Reuters. Two-thirds - 515 aircrafts - belong to foreign lessors. The market value of them is $10 billion.

News that Russian airlines were starting to have trouble with the equipment began over the weekend.

For example, one of the Boeing 777-300ER aircraft of the Russian airline Nordwind Airlines flying the Khabarovsk - Mexico City - Khabarovsk route did not return to Russia because of insurance cancellation. It was reported on February 28 by Interfax with reference to the affiliate general director of the carrier tour operator Pegas Touristik, Anna Podgornaya.

According to her data, the airplane was flying without passengers, only with cargo, on the Khabarovsk - Mexico City route. The plane was supposed to return back to Khabarovsk, but it was left in Mexico as its insurance was canceled due to the EU sanctions.

RBC wrote about another case, citing its sources. According to them, the Irish lessor arrested a Pobeda Boeing 737 aircraft in Istanbul on February 27. The plane flew to Istanbul from Mineralnye Vody and was scheduled to return, but the Turkish aviation authorities imposed a departure ban.

Pobeda's legal director Alexei Tankevich said on March 1 that the company plans to protect the aircraft from the arrest of lessors within the legal framework (he was quoted by Interfax).

According to Tankevich, the company has received several notices from lessors to return the aircraft, but has not yet made a decision on them.

AerCap, an Irish lessor, announced on February 28 that it was terminating cooperation with Russian companies because of EU sanctions.

Its customers in Russia were Aeroflot, S7, Rossiya, Azur Air and Ural Airlines - with aircraft fleet totaling $2.5 billion (an estimate by ACC Aviation, cited by Reuters). These aircraft represent 5% of the leasing company's fleet.

ACC Aviation President Victor Burt said although Russia is part of the international Cape Town Convention, which stipulates rules for returning aircraft, there could still be difficulties with this if Russian aviation authorities and airlines do not cooperate with lessors. An additional problem will be sending personnel to Russia when airspace is closed.

According to Interfax, Singapore-based BOC Aviation, which has units in Dublin and London, is also planning to break contracts with Russian airlines.

"EU sanctions imposed on Feb. 26 require termination of leases between EU lessors and airlines in Russia by March 28 and will affect most of our aircrafts in Russia. Our policy is to fully comply with all laws applicable to our business," a BOC Aviation spokesman said (quoted by Interfax).

The company has 18 aircrafts in Russia (4.5 percent of its total fleet) and they are leased by four Russian airlines - Pobeda, Ural Airlines, S7 and AirBridgeCargo.

Russian airlines may also face problems with spare parts for the planes.

For example, according to Russian media reports the aircraft engine manufacturer CFM International has sent a letter to customers in Russia stating that they are obliged to suspend all supplies of parts and technical support.

Flightglobal reported in 2021 that CFM56 engines from the company are installed on 800 aircraft used by Russian carriers.


According to Kommersant, at least six major companies have received notices from European lessors to terminate leasing contracts - and this, among other things, is delaying the organization of outbound flights.

The thing is that the companies, according to the newspaper, are unwilling to provide aircraft for such flights, which can be potentially delayed at the request of lessors.

One of the scenarios considered is the removal of Russians by planes of the Ministry of Defense, Kommersant's source says.

At the very beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, in February 2020, there were already cases of Russian citizens being flown out of Wuhan, China, by military aircraft. In January 2022, Russian military transport aviation evacuated Russian citizens from Kazakhstan.

While airlines of some countries continue to fly to and from Russia, tourists still have the option to get home on their own.

One of the options advised by Rosaviatsiya is to fly through countries that have not closed air communication with Russia - Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Qatar, UAE, Turkey and others.

Foreign airlines from the countries that have not closed communication with Russia keep flying there and they have an opportunity to fly by direct routes. Turkish Airlines, Pegasus, Air Serbia, Egypt Air, and others are among them.

Another option is to get to destinations in Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Finland. Then one can go by land transport to the points in Russia, including Belarus.

But the conditions of entry into Russia in each case may differ because of different restrictions, including coronavirus.

According to a pilot interviewed by the editorial board, humanitarian flights may follow, for example, over neutral waters - outside the 12-mile zone near the border. Authorities would need to coordinate specific flights.

According to him, from the Dominican Republic, Russian companies already only take tourists, this process may take about two weeks though. Those who have already arrived on vacation stay for the time allowed.

"There are some tourists who came up to us and said, 'We want to leave early.' We say go to the travel agency where you bought your ticket. Someone says, "If you've come, let's have a rest. We (Russians) don’t have tourists who want to leave within 24 hours. If that were the case, we would bring all our planes and be able to take up to 530 people at a time," says the pilot.


At first, the guidelines from the departments advised tourists who cannot leave for Russia to contact their airline or tour operator, as well as to call the hotline of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and download the "Foreign Assistant" application.

However, in feedback - for example, in comments on the page in "Instagram" of the head of Rostourism Zarina Doguzova tourists massively complain about the fact that they cannot reach the hotline for many hours, and the application does not work.

Tourists who cannot fly back to Russia also told about the problems with the application.

For example, Anastasia arrived in Cyprus a few days before the conflict began and planned to leave at the beginning of March.

"Usually, when leaving somewhere, I don't buy a return ticket right away, but I buy one later. Just today I was planning to take it, but in the morning I was "excited" by the news about the closure of the skies of Cyprus. Tickets are still on sale, but in one of the groups in "Telegram" people who were trying to get to Russia today wrote about the cancellation of flights. On the website of Larnaca airport flights are also canceled in the schedule," she wrote.

Anastasia still could not register in the Foreign Ministry's app - no text message with a code is coming.

"Now my panic has already passed a little, and I started evaluating my options. Yes, I would not want to spend extra money, but I may need to look for accommodation for a longer period (about a month), as I have a remote job. I also consider the option to return via Istanbul, if Turkey does not close the airspace before the weekend" she writes.

Igor, a tourist who is in Istanbul, is also trying to check in on the app, expecting a worst-case scenario, although he is not going to go to Russia right now.

"Due to the constant failures with government services, I would like to at least be registered on the app, just in case," he wrote.

Anastasia expects to be able to sign up for an outbound flight on the state services website.

February 28, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Chernyshenko instructed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Rostourism to work on the possibility of registration of Russians for outbound flights through the website “gosuslugi” (Government Services). There will be a special form to collect information about tourists until March 3. According to the plan of the authorities, it will be possible to register for the flight right via the website.

Mechanism of registration for outbound flights through the public services also worked in the pandemic.

True, as noted by the pilot with whom the editorial board spoke, the situation in the current crisis is much more difficult than in 2020.

"In covid, cargo aviation on the contrary rose, business travel went up because cargo had to be carried during the covid and business passengers were flying. And now this situation is going to affect everybody," he says.