State Department says Russia approves U.S. airline overflights

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S State Department said late Thursday the Russian government has approved U.S. air carriers’ requests for overflights even as some cargo and passenger airlines seek additional flights.

This month, a trade group representing major U.S. passenger and cargo carriers had asked the State Department to “act urgently” to address the needs of airlines to secure rights to overfly Russian airspace, according to a letter seen by Reuters.

Airlines for America, which represents American Airlines, Delta Airlines, United Airlines, FedEx Corp, United Parcel Service and others, in an Oct. 14 letter asked Secretary of State Antony Blinken for his intervention, warning that without action they could be forced to halt some flights.

“Many U.S. airlines urgently need additional rights to overfly Russian airspace to meet market demands,” the letter said, adding without additional rights “U.S. airlines will be forced to operate on alternate, inefficient routes resulting in time penalties, technical stops, excess CO2 emissions and loss of historic slot rights.”

The State Department confirmed it received the letter and said “Russia approved U.S. carriers’ applications for overflights last week. The Department of State continues to engage with the relevant Russian authorities to secure expanded air services opportunities for U.S. carriers.”

The department declined to say how many overflights had been approved.

United said Thursday it “has received the necessary overflight approvals from Russian authorities to continue operating our nonstop flights to India this winter without interruption.”

The State Department held a meeting with airlines to discuss the issue last week, airline officials said. Some carriers are pursuing additional overflight rights.

The Russian Embassy in Washington did not respond to requests for comment. The airline group did not comment.

The airline group’s chief executive, Nicholas Calio, in the letter said “U.S. passenger airlines need additional Russian overflights to operate efficiently from the U.S. to destinations in Asia, India, and the Middle East.”

He added that “U.S. all-cargo carriers need restoration of overflight rights on all-cargo routes between points in Europe and Asia that were mutually agreed upon but were unilaterally stripped away by the Russian government.”

With ties already at post-Cold War lows, Russia and the United States are in a dispute over the number of diplomats they can post to each other’s capitals, and failed to make progress at talks this month.

Calio warned that without action “U.S. carriers may need to consider mitigation measures, including schedule reductions. This outcome would make U.S. carriers far less competitive globally … and will exacerbate the growing backlog of cargo and express shipments needed to reduce the pressure on the supply chain.”

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Stephen Coates, Chris Reese and Gerry Doyle)