Russia closed the airspace above its capital on the morning of Tuesday 22 August 2023 after Ukrainian drones were detected around 25km northwest of Moscow.
“Two drones were detected and destroyed by air defense systems over the territory of the Moscow region,” said a Russian Defence Ministry statement.
The incident occurred in the town of Krasnogorsk, which is connected to Moscow’s metro system, and led to activity at all four Moscow airports being shut down. Simple Flying has also reported Russian claims that it destroyed “a further two Ukrainian drones over the Bryansk region that borders Ukraine.”
1. Re-opened with delays
Flights resumed again later but were dogged by delays caused by the disruption, including at the Russian capital’s busiest airport Moscow Sheremetyevo International Airport (SVO), which reached 49 million passengers in 2019, before the Covid-19 pandemic and 2022’s invasion of Ukraine. It was down to less than half that throughput last year. Operations there by Red Sea Airlines, and Armenian Airlines were among those affected by the drone incident, as well as beleaguered national carrier Aeroflot which uses Sheremetyevo as a hub.
Worse disruption was caused at Moscow Domodedovo Airport (DME) for passengers on other domestic carriers Ural Airlines and S7 Airlines. 21 million passengers used Domodedovo in 2022.
Vnukovo International Airport (VKO), the third busiest with 12 million passengers in 2022, is another major domestic hub and serves some long-haul destinations such as the Caribbean, Tanzania and Thailand. Meanwhile, Zhukovsky International Airport (ZIA), 43km southeast of the capital, is a new, smaller hub built to serve low-cost airlines.
2. 3D printed “candy bombs”?
Drone attacks seem to be on the rise in the conflict since May, when two exploded near the Kremlin.
The Economist has reported that Ukraine is using 3D printing to create 450g (one-pound) “candy bombs” that can be dropped from drones. The bombs contain copper and aluminum, which on detonation turns into hot plasma capable of penetrating armour.
Russia is not the only country where drones have caused airport closures. London’s Gatwick was affected in 2018. Drones are increasingly being used around the world, by enthusiasts for leisure, but also more sinister purposes such as drugs transport and surveillance. Airports are meant to be no-fly zones where drone activity for any purpose is forbidden.
While “all is fair in love and war”, the USA has refused to endorse any Ukrainian attacks on internal Russian targets, though it has insisted Ukraine is responsible for determining its own defence strategy against the ongoing Russian invasion.