A Russian passenger plane has been allowed to cross Norwegian airspace in an exception to the European ban on Russian aircraft in its airspace.
Norway implemented the airspace embargo after the invasion of Ukraine, but during the afternoon of Monday, 18 December 2023, a Russian Nordwind passenger jet was allowed to reroute through Norway’s skies due to a medical emergency on board.
The Boeing 777-300(ER), operating under Nordwind flight number N4 555, had been heading from Russia’s busiest airport, Sheremetyevo, to Varadero, Cuba. It declared a “pressing medical issue aboard the aircraft” according to Cathrine Framholt, on behalf of Norway’s state aviation operator, Avinor, which is responsible for implementing the airspace ban.
A medical emergency on board enables it to get permission to use Norwegian airspace.Cathrine Framholt told Norwegian TV channel NRK
As a result, Norway granted the plane special permission to access its airspace and the aircraft performed a U-turn over the Barents and Norwegian Seas before flying south again, back to Moscow.
The identity of the passenger and the nature of the medical emergency has not been released at the time of writing.
The airspace ban
Norway’s airspace ban was announced by the country’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) in February 2022, and brought in comprehensive restrictions, prohibiting Russian aircraft from flying to, from, or over Svalbard, Jan Mayen, and the Norwegian mainland.
The no-fly zone was then extended to include the airspace above Norwegian territorial waters, to 12 nautical miles out. International airspace corridors between restricted areas were unaffected.
A Russian leisure airline, Nordwind was founded in 2008 as a joint venture by the Russian and Turkish branches of tourist operator Pegas Touristik. Headquartered in Moscow, it now operates mainly schedule charter flights from Russia to holiday destinations such as the Mediterranean, Caribbean and Indian Ocean. Between 2008 and 2021 it grew its passenger numbers from 20,000 to nearly 6 million.
It is not the first time the airline has been in the media spotlight. A Nordwind jet from Sharmel Sheik to Kazan was allegedly shot at by unknown forces in 2013. The airline has also been accused by the Wall Street Journal of carrying cargo shipments in 2019 involved in the global gold blackmarket.
Cuba’s popularity with Russians
Prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, trips to Cuba’s Caribbean holiday resorts were popular enough with affluent Russians and, some reports say, goods mules, to warrant 17 flights to Cuba every week. These were operated by four carriers (Aeroflot, Azur Air, Nordwind, and Royal Flight Airlines).
These were all suspended after European countries closed their airspace to Russian aircraft, but routes were redrawn and Nordwind resumed flights late in 2022.
The first half of 2023 saw Cuba welcoming over 67, 600 Russian tourist arrivals, according to data from Cuba’s Ministry of Tourism. That’s 45% more than the same period the previous year. Extrapolated to the year, the figures could put Cuba within shouting distance of their record Russian arrivals year (178,000 in 2021).
Tourism adviser at the Embassy of Russia in the Republic, Christina Leon Iznaga, has said that 2023’s figures make Russia the fourth largest tourism market for Cuba, with only Canadians, Cubans living abroad, and US tourists ahead.