Airlines seek urgent US action to address Russia overflight rights

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A trade group representing major US passenger and cargo carriers has 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 without action they could be forced to halt some flights.

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“Many US airlines urgently need additional rights to overfly Russian airspace to meet market demands,” the previously unreported letter said, adding without additional rights “US 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 Russian Embassy in Washington did not respond to requests for comment. The State Department declined immediate comment.

Sources said the US government has held extensive interagency discussions on the issue.

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

He added that “US 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.”

The airlines also sent the letter to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo. The airlines asked “that State Department officials act urgently and pursue discussions with their Russian counterparts aimed at addressing additional overflight capacity for both sides in time for the upcoming air traffic winter season.”

Calio said the Russian government “is interested in seeing progress on the processing of visas before they will consider discussing additional overflight capacity for US airlines.”

The American Embassy stopped processing most visa applications in May due to Moscow’s ban on employing embassy staff in Russia.

With ties already at post-Cold War lows, Russia and the US 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 “US carriers may need to consider mitigation measures, including schedule reductions. This outcome would make US 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.”

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