Biden joins allies, bans Russian planes from US airspace
President Joe Biden announced Tuesday night in his State of the Union address that the U.S. is banning Russian flights from its airspace in retaliation for the invasion of Ukraine.
The move follows similar action by Canada and the European Union this week. Biden also issued an ominous warning that without consequences, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s aggression wouldn’t be contained to Ukraine.
“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,” Biden said.
The ban would come on top of a wide range of sanctions the U.S., Europe and other nations have imposed on Russia that have caused the value of its currency, the ruble, to plunge, and are expected to hammer its economy.
On Sunday, the European Union and Canada announced they were closing their airspace to Russian airlines and private planes owned by wealthy Russians.
The Canadian ban led Russia’s largest airline, Aeroflot, on Monday to say that it had suspended flights to New York, Washington, Miami and Los Angeles through Wednesday.
The U.S. ban raises the possibility that Russia could respond by prohibiting U.S. flights over its territory, which would make for longer and more costly flights, especially for cargo carriers. FedEx and UPS both fly over Russia, although they announced this weekend that they were suspending deliveries to that country.
No U.S. airlines fly to Russia, though a few flights to India pass through Russian airspace. American Airlines routes its lone flight between Delhi and New York to avoid Russian airspace, which adds miles to the trip and means that the flight often requires a refueling stop in Bangor, Maine, on westbound flights.
Russia also has an interest in preserving overflights by U.S. carriers. Aviation experts say Russia derives a sizable amount of money from fees that it levies to use its airspace or land at its airports.
European airlines fly over Russia far more often than their U.S. counterparts. Before the war, about 600 flights to or from Europe passed through Russian airspace, according to aviation data firm Cirium.
Even before the Biden announcement, United Airlines announced that it was no longer using Russian airspace and cancelling some flights to India. A Wednesday flight from Mumbai to its Newark hub is scheduled to stop in Bangor, Maine, to refuel after taking a circuitous route over the Middle East.
A ban on Russian flights could also lead to retaliation against Boeing, a major U.S. exporter and one of the world’s two dominant aircraft manufacturers.
Russia and China are widely assumed to be talking to each other about foreign policy. The rise in tension between the West and Moscow makes it less likely that China will soon reauthorize flights by Boeing’s 737 Max jetliner, said George Ferguson, an aerospace analyst for Bloomberg Intelligence.
China was the biggest market for the Max before it was grounded following two fatal crashes, and neither China nor Russia has yet approved the plane’s return. A delay in their approving the Max will reduce Boeing’s expected aircraft deliveries, an important source of cash for the Chicago-based company, Ferguson said.
Associated Press writers Daria Litvinova in Moscow and Frank Jordans in Berlin contributed to this report.