EC Transport Head Calls Out Turkey on Increase in Russia Flights

 - March 25, 2022, 1:30 PM
A Turkish Airlines Airbus A330-300 takes off from Seoul Incheon Airport in 2015, Turkey's airlines have increased flights to Russia by 80 percent since the start of the war in Ukraine. (Photo: Flickr: Creative Commons (BY-SA) by byeangel)

Calls for solidarity from European aviation leaders amid the war in Ukraine have gone largely unheeded by Turkey, whose airlines have increased flights to Russia by 80 percent since the start of Russia's invasionaccording to the head of the European Commission's Directorate-General for Mobility and Transport (DG Move), Henrik Hololei.

The point arose during a webcast held by Eurocontrol on the effects of the war on European airlines, whose inability to fly over Russian airspace has severely affected its international operations and revenues. Finnair perhaps has felt the biggest effect due to its heavy reliance on Siberian overflights to Asia, which it can no longer operate due to Western sanctions on Russia. Meanwhile, soaring jet fuel prices have taken their toll on airlines worldwide, prompting LOT Polish Airlines CEO Rafal Milczarski to call for at least a temporary reprieve from carbon reduction efforts such as the EU’s emissions trading scheme (ETS).

While Hololei resisted calls for any lifting of sustainability initiatives, the panelists agreed on a general need for solidarity during the crisis, prompting the DG Move director's criticism of Turkey.

“We have seen incredible solidarity among the European transport operators, including the airlines,” said Hololei. “But there are also those who are trying to undercut and who are trying to make the use of this situation...I find it absolutely outrageous that, for example, Turkish operators have increased their flights to Russia by 80 percent compared to when the crisis started. This is something that you wouldn't expect from a country that is a member of European aviation [community] and also a European Union candidate country and a NATO member.”

Notwithstanding their common calls for solidarity, the disagreement between Milczarski and Hololei over ETS became a recurring theme of the session. The LOT CEO stressed the particular hardship his airline has had to endure given that not only can his airline not fly over Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Moldova, but much of Polish airspace also remains closed due to its heavy use by the military in the east of the country. Now flying over the North Pole to get to Asia, LOT has seen block time increases of 4.5 to five hours for flights to the Far East. Overall, LOT has had to reschedule 13 percent of its flights since the start of the crisis and cancel 9 percent of its service.

“Some flights are no longer possible because we can't fly with the airplane type that we used to fly; and, of course, you have all the economic impacts,” said Milczarski. “Now when we combine fuel prices with extremely high levels of ETS certificates, this is providing such a huge negative impact on all the European operators. It really calls for a rethink and perhaps a moratorium for a period of time on the application of ETS onto European aviation because we are under huge financial stress and we haven't yet gotten out of Covid.”

For his part, Hololei opted to stress positive developments in aviation since the worst days of the Covid crisis. Intra-Europe traffic has recovered to about 70 percent of its 2019 levels, he said, adding that transatlantic volumes have fared even better. This, he explained, should not be a time the aviation industry’s efforts toward sustainability stall.

“This is definitely not the moment when we can talk about giving any kind of flexibility when it comes to the drive toward more sustainability In aviation,” argued Hololei. "The thing is that if we are not able to make aviation more sustainable, we will not have a license to grow. I want to see aviation growing, but I also want to see the emissions going down. And ETS is one of the very good market-based tools that allows us to do that.”