Russian airline violates Canadian airspace

Russian airline violates Canadian airspace
(AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, file)

One of the bolder economic moves against Russia following its invasion of Ukraine was taken by the European Union and Canada when they banned all Russian aircraft from landing in their countries or even flying through their airspace. That decision was put to the test yesterday when an Aeroflot commercial jet flew through Canadian airspace on the way from Miami to Moscow. It was a brief incursion, but it still violated the new rules. Transport Canada and the Nav Canada air traffic control service are currently “reviewing” the incident, but it’s unclear what can be done about it or what will happen if they do it again today. (Reuters)

Russian airline Aeroflot (AFLT.MM) on Sunday violated a ban on aircraft from the country using Canadian airspace, regulator Transport Canada said, on the same day the restriction was imposed in response to Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

“We are aware that Aeroflot Flight 111 violated the prohibition put in place earlier today on Russian flights using Canadian airspace,” Transport Canada said in a tweet late on Sunday. Flight 111 travels from Miami, Florida to Moscow and took off at 15:12 ET, according to FlightRadar24.

There are no direct flights between Russia and Canada, but several Russian flights a day have until now passed through Canadian airspace to other countries, a spokesperson for Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said.

The pilot of the airliner reportedly told Canadian air traffic control that they were on a “humanitarian mission.” (Whatever that means under the current conditions.) That would normally allow for special handling of the flight and possibly an exception to the ban. But it would still require some evidence of precisely what sort of humanitarian need they were fulfilling.

A Nav Canada spokesperson told Reuters they “will not hesitate to take appropriate enforcement action and other measures to prevent future violations.” But what does that even mean? Has the Kremlin quietly told Aeroflot to go ahead and test the resolve of Canada and the EU by flying over their territories? It’s a safe bet that they were well aware that none of those countries would dare to shoot down a civilian airliner because of the immediate global condemnation such an action would bring. (Unlike Russia, which has already shot down more than one civilian plane.) It would also be far too risky to try to force the plane to land, not to mention they would be forcing them to do precisely what they have already been banned from doing. So what does that leave in terms of “enforcement action” options?

Much like everything else in the world of international diplomacy, the whole concept of respecting another country’s airspace only works if everyone agrees to go along with it. If someone simply thumbs their nose at the offended party and continues to fly through, it doesn’t seem like there’s much anyone can do about it.

While we’re on the subject, here’s another question we can all ponder. Pretty much all of Europe and our neighbors in Canada have banned Russian planes from their airspace. Where is Joe Biden on this subject? It appears that Aeroflot is still flying in and out of American airports just as they normally would. It’s pretty much the same as the way that Germany has moved to shut down Russian fuel exports into and through their country while Biden is still allowing the virtually unlimited importation of Russian oil. Didn’t the United States use to be the leader that western Europe took its cues from? Or is Biden so worried about the political fallout from the inflation and spiking energy prices we were seeing even before the invasion of Ukraine that he doesn’t want to risk causing further damage to the supply chain? This isn’t exactly one of those “profiles in courage” moments from the look of things.

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