Following a decision by the United States (US) Department of Transportation (DOT) to allow Chinese airlines to increase flights to the US, new flights appear to have been routed to avoid Russian airspace.
The DOT previously approved Chinese airlines to add more flights to the US with a decision issued on May 3, 2023. While the Civil Aviation Authority of China (CAAC) “has unilaterally abridged the rights of U.S. carriers”, the DOT allowed China-based carriers to operate up to 12 weekly round-trip flights from China to the US.
Included in the DOT’s recipient list of the decision were Air China, Beijing Capital Airlines, China Eastern Airlines, China Southern Airlines, Hainan Airlines, Sichuan Airlines, and Xiamen Airlines.
According to an analysis by AeroTime of flightradar24.com data, some routes between China and US still utilize Russian airspace. For example, Air China’s flightCA987 between Beijing Capital International Airport (PEK) and Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) flew north, across eastern Siberia, before circling down to LAX along Alaska, the coast of Canada, and finally, the US, taking 11 hours and 48 minutes.
Meanwhile, Air China’s flight CA981 from PEK to New York John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) on May 27, 2023, flew across the northern Pacific Ocean, avoiding Russian airspace before crossing into Alaska, Canada, and landing on the east coast of the US.
At the same time, China Eastern Airlines flight MU588 from JFK to Shanghai Shanghai Pudong International Airport (PVG) crossed the sanctioned country’s airspace, as did China Eastern Airlines flight MU588 from PVG to Toronto Pearson International Airport (YYZ).
In February 2023, assorted senators sent a letter to a group of US officials, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken, DOT Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, and Jake Sullivan, the National Security Advisor. “An additional byproduct of the current situation is that it puts U.S. airlines at a competitive disadvantage relative to airlines from other countries willing to do business with Russia,” read the letter, seen by Reuters. The senators also expressed concerns about security risks, citing the shooting down of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 above eastern Ukraine by Russia-backed separatists.
Countries such as the US, the European Union (EU), and others, have imposed strict sanctions on Russia’s aerospace sector following the invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022. The country answered with its own sanctions, prohibiting Western airlines’ aircraft to cross its airspace.