With the escalation of war in Ukrainian territory, the EU airline safety regulator — European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) — was consulted to assess the level of safety for travellers wishing to fly to eastern Europe. Russia is now facing a near-total airspace blockade following the decision of most EU countries to close their airspace.
1. Commercial flights suspended
As the conflict intensifies, commercial flights operating in or out of Ukraine, Moldova or over parts of Belarus have been suspended and travellers are wondering whether travelling to neighbouring countries is safe.
“The airspace will be closed from 12:00. Flights will be diverted to other airports,” Moldovan Deputy Prime Minister Andrei Spinu said on Telegram instant messaging, on 27 February, justifying the decision by “the situation in the region.”
EASA determines the safety of commercial aviation in certain regions based on its Conflict Zone Information Bulletin. Based on the latest updates, EASA is warning passengers against travelling over the region of Chisinau in Moldova, and Minsk, the capital of Belarus. This includes landing and departures from airports located in the affected airspace.
“Operators should exercise caution when operating in the whole Moscow due to heightened military activity which may include launches of mid-range missiles penetrating into controlled airspace,” warned EASA.
2. EU shuts airspace to Russian planes
The EU regulator is working closely with the European Commission and Eurocontrol — the European Organisation for the Safety of Air Navigation —however, only their joint assessments are made public. They are then shared with the National Aviation Authorities across EASA’s member states.
“Aviation safety is the primary responsibility of EASA. We do everything we can to ensure that aviation remains safe. This includes taking prompt action to keep all parties informed when a risk to aviation is assessed,” said the spokeswoman quoted by Euronews.
The EU has imposed a blanket flight ban on Russian planes, the head of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, has announced.
We are shutting down EU airspace for Russian-owned, Russian-registered or Russian-controlled aircraftUrsula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission
“European skies are open for those who connect people, not for those who seek to brutally aggress,“ said Belgium’s Prime Minister Alexander De Croo.
Finland, which has a border of more than 1,300 kilometers with its Russian neighbor is “preparing to close its airspace to Russian aircraft traffic”, said the transport minister Timo Harrakka on Twitter early on 28 February.
The three Baltic States — which were part of the Soviet Union until 1989 — have also decided to close their airspace to Russian airlines too, according to the Transport Ministers of those countries.
3. Flying to non-bordering countries with Russia
Apprehension mounts among citizens from the Baltic countries who live abroad and want to check on their families. According to EASA, airlines are still flying as scheduled in and out of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, signaling that aviation experts consider it safe to do so.
While Lithuania has declared a state of emergency, Latvia and Estonia are in urgent talks. The ex-Soviet nations and NATO members have deployed troops to bolster their borders with Russia and Belarus. So far, there are no signs that the military conflict will affect travel between the Baltics or from other destinations, but the region has naturally been taken by high tension.
For passengers wanting to fly to Lithuania, EASA said that depending on the location of the departure to get to Vilnius, Lithuania’s capital, it’s likely that the flight will re-route the conflict area.
“It should be safe, but if you are still concerned about the flight it’s worth checking with your airline, as they may be able to provide extra reassurances, offer a refund or change your travel dates,“ wrote Euronews quoted by EASA.
4. Belarus partly closes its airspace
Meanwhile in Belarus, an ally from Vladimir Putin and the Russian occupation in Ukraine, the government announced the closure of parts of the country’s airspace. According to a statement from the Belarus defence ministry, which has been shared by a Russian agency, the closed skies include the country’s state border, up to Vysokem, Baranovichi, Osipovichi and Krichev.