Russia extends overflight approvals for US airlines, after airspace drama that hit planes bound for Hong Kong and Beijing

The six-month extension could head off uncertainty over ‘geopolitical issues’ that forced American Airlines planes to land midway through flights to Asia on Saturday

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 18 April, 2018, 12:10pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 18 April, 2018, 12:48pm

Russia has agreed to extend overflight approvals for US airlines by six months, the US State Department said, hours before  the previous agreement was due to expire.

The agreement that allows US carriers to fly over Russia had been due to expire at 11.59pm GMT on Tuesday.

The State Department said the extension was for operations on three routes until October 28, 2018. It did not specify the routes.

Additionally, the Russian Ministry of Transport extended approvals for all cargo flights from Asia to Europe through April 20 but proposed an alternative route after that date, which was being discussed, the State Department said.

American Airlines planes flying from Dallas and Chicago to Hong Kong and Beijing had been forced to land midway through their journeys on Saturday after non-stop services were suspended due to “restricted airspace” over Russia, an issue the airline blamed on “geopolitical issues”. Those flights returned to normal on Sunday night.

“We are also working to schedule discussions with Russian civil aviation officials to discuss this and other civil aviation matters,” the State Department said on Tuesday. “Our goal remains to provide as many benefits as possible for US carriers.”

Earlier, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters that the department had met US commercial and cargo carriers to discuss their concerns as the deadline loomed.

US diplomats in Moscow were in touch with the Russian government, she said.

Russian civil aviation officials had cancelled a meeting in Washington this week to discuss renewing the agreement, Nauert said.

Discussions on the overflights unfolded amid tensions between Moscow and Washington after the United States, France and Britain launched missile strikes in Syria on Saturday aimed at curbing that country’s chemical weapons programmes. Russia is a staunch ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.