Avoiding Russian airspace: From a shortcut to a detour
On Monday 28 February Russia closed its airspace as a countermeasure to EU airspace closure. This meant many changes to Finnair’s Asian services, as most of Finnair’s flights between Europe and Asia have used the shortest, fastest, and most environmentally sound route over Russia.
In the new situation, our traffic planning and operations teams have worked hard to replan our Asian flights for the coming two months.
“We continue to fly to Bangkok, Delhi, Phuket, and Singapore, with a longer flight time,” says Perttu Jolma, who heads Finnair’s traffic planning team. “The flights to North-East Asia are tough ones to replan, as the detour around Russia makes the flights so much longer.”
Finnair flies to Tokyo Narita four times a week as of 9 March. The flight time is around 13 hours, instead of the normal 9.5-10 hours. We also continue our Shanghai flights once a week as of 10 March and Seoul flights three times a week as of 12 March, with a flight time of 12-14 hours depending on the direction.
Flights between Helsinki and Osaka and Hongkong have been canceled until the end of April, as flying them with a longer routing is not currently possible.
Where the winds blow
When planning the detour around Russia, winds or jet streams play a key role.
“Depending on the winds, we fly either the southern or northern way around Russia to Japan,” Perttu explains.
The southern route to Japan goes roughly from Helsinki over the Baltics, Poland, Slovak Republic, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan to China, Korea and then to Japan. The northern route goes from Finland to Norway over Svalbard and the North pole towards Alaska and then across the sea to Japan. Back in 1983 Finnair was the first airline to fly non-stop from Europe to Japan, flying over the North Pole, so operating in the polar region is not new to Finnair.
The same southern route is used for flights to China and Korea. The return flight from Seoul to Helsinki may also take the northern route.
On the Shanghai route, the return flight to Helsinki is up to two hours longer than the flight from Helsinki to Shanghai, due to the winds along the way.
The southern route is used also for the Bangkok, Delhi, Singapore and Phuket flights. The route goes roughly from Helsinki to the Baltics, Poland, Slovak Republic, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan, and then across the North-East part of Iran to Pakistan and onwards to India and beyond.
The exact flight route for each flight is defined closer to the departure based on, for example, the weather conditions on the day.
There are a lot of calculations to be done when planning the detour around Russian airspace. The longer route means more fuel burn, changes to the number of crew and their working hours, and all of this impacts the costs.
“The longer flight time impacts the flights’ financials a great deal, increasing fuel costs, crew costs and navigation costs,” Perttu explains. “The impact of these is so great, that at this stage we are unfortunately not able to offer passenger connections to all of our Asian destinations. We of course continue to monitor the situation and hope to be able to return to all our markets as soon as possible.”
As many of Finnair’s customers have connecting flights, longer flight times between Europe and Asia also means replanning the new long-haul schedules so that connections to and from Finnair’s home hub Helsinki can be arranged. This is why Finnair’s Bangkok flight now has a new schedule to enable customers to connect to and from Helsinki even with the longer flight time.
“We also need to seek the required permits to fly the new route, and there may be areas that require special preparation such as high terrain or the polar region,” Perttu explains. “All of this is carefully planned with our flight operations team, as flight safety is always our number one priority.”