Cathay Pacific Resumes Using Russian Airspace

Cathay Pacific Resumes Using Russian Airspace

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Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, many airlines stopped using Russian airspace, which has certainly proven to be an operational headache. Some airlines were forced to stop using Russian airspace (due to government bans), while other airlines stopped using Russian airspace out of an abundance of caution.

Along those lines, in the coming days Cathay Pacific is making a change to its policy on using Russian airspace, as reported by Danny Lee at Bloomberg.

Cathay Pacific no longer avoiding Russian airspace

As of November 1, 2022, Cathay Pacific will no longer avoid Russian airspace on its routes between eastern North America and Hong Kong.

Looking at the New York to Hong Kong route over the past several months, rather than taking the Polar route, the airline has instead flown over northern Canada, then Alaska, and then over the Pacific, just south of Russia.

This has added one to three hours to the flight time, depending on conditions, and the flight has regularly taken 17-18 hours. While the direct air distance between the cities is just over 8,000 miles, the flight has in some cases covered an actual flown distance of over 10,000 miles.

In the case of exceptionally bad winds, a technical stop has even been required in Taipei, in order to refuel and change crews.

Cathay Pacific’s current routing from New York to Hong Kong

Going forward, these flights will operate over eastern Russia. Cathay Pacific explains this is necessary due to strong headwinds and payload issues. While this will save significant amounts of money in terms of fuel burn, Russia has notoriously high ATC fees, which largely negate those savings.

It’s worth noting that while Cathay Pacific will use Russian airspace, a notice to pilots makes it clear that the flights are planned with “no dependence on any airports within Russia and none should be considered or allowed.” In other words, these flights wouldn’t divert to Russia in the event of an emergency.

According to a Cathay Pacific spokesperson:

“There are other major airlines overflying Russian airspace and there are no sanctions which prevent Cathay Pacific overflying Russia. The Polar Route provides a safe, direct and the fastest flight experience to our customers traveling from the East Coast of North America to Hong Kong.”

Cathay Pacific is changing routings on North America routes

Should Cathay Pacific avoid Russian airspace?

For situations where airlines voluntarily choose to avoid Russian airspace, there are two elements to this — safety, and the principle and optics of the matter.

In terms of safety:

  • Keep in mind many global airlines (Emirates, Qatar Airways, etc.) continue to use Russian airspace without issue, even on flights to the United States
  • Politically, it wouldn’t really be in the Russian government’s interest to do anything to a Cathay Pacific plane
  • Eastern Russia generally seems the lowest risk anyway, as it’s far from the conflict with Ukraine

Then there’s the principle and optics of the matter:

  • The reality is that China/Hong Kong aren’t really taking much of a stand with this conflict
  • While those in the US might not love the idea of flying over Russia and Cathay Pacific paying boatloads of money to use Russian airspace, that doesn’t really reflect the sentiment in China/Hong Kong, and for that matter travelers will probably appreciate the time savings
  • Airlines that can use Russian airspace have a significant competitive advantage in terms of travel time, flight costs, etc.; it’s something Air India has been doing well with in recent months with service to the United States, given that US airlines have largely been forced to suspend India flights
  • It’s pretty clear the current conflict isn’t going anywhere, and even if there were to be some sort of peace deal between Ukraine and Russia, I wouldn’t necessarily assume things would just go back to how they were before the conflict
I can’t really blame Cathay Pacific for this, to be honest

Bottom line

As of November 2022, Cathay Pacific will resume using Russian airspace on select flights to North America. For the past several months the airline has been making massive detours to avoid Russian airspace, in many cases adding a couple of hours to the flight time, hugely driving up costs.

Now Cathay Pacific will resume flying the Polar route on these flights, which includes using eastern Russia airspace.

What do you make of Cathay Pacific resuming using Russian airspace?

Conversations (71)
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  1. Euro Aviation Guest

    Malaysia Airlines fight 17 (over the Ukraine), Korean Airlines flight 007 (over Eastern Russia) were both shot down by them. Who knows the odds of a largely British owned (The Swire Group) Cathay Pacific airliner being shot down but we are in contentious times where authoritarianism and democracies are aligning against each other. That "safety" category should include this history and current events in the calculation.

    The argumentum ad populum is quite fallacious.

  2. Jon Guest

    To those American having an issue with this flight... Stay home... This is Asia and not the West... If there is war in Syria nobody gives a sh.... Why should we care here... Hypocrites, that's what you are... I prefer the most direct flight to anywhere... And Cathay provides it.. End of story.. As I said.. If you don't like it.. Stay home or fly your own airliners

    1. A. Wolf Guest

      Let’s see if there’s an emergency and you have to land immediately.

  3. Lune Gold

    I guess people are free to make their own decision, but personally, even as an American citizen, I wouldn't hesitate to fly CX. China is one of Russia's closest allies (such as it is...). CX was never banned from using Russian airpsace. If they had to divert to Russia, their passengers will be fine. Even Putin is not so stupid as to essentially hijack a Chinese airplane. Even if not a single Chinese citizen was...

    I guess people are free to make their own decision, but personally, even as an American citizen, I wouldn't hesitate to fly CX. China is one of Russia's closest allies (such as it is...). CX was never banned from using Russian airpsace. If they had to divert to Russia, their passengers will be fine. Even Putin is not so stupid as to essentially hijack a Chinese airplane. Even if not a single Chinese citizen was on the plane (unlikely), China would not look too kindly at one of their major carriers being used in such a matter, which would basically guarantee no foreigner (or Chinese for that matter) would fly CX again. Even if the government in Beijing wants to knock CX down a peg or two, this is not the way to do it, and you'd bet there would be an uproar and Putin would likely face far bigger consequences than whatever he thinks he might gain from this stunt.

    This is not to mention that Russia is desperate for foreign currency (including RMB), so whatever landing fees they receive would be well appreciated. Let's face it, Russia is still supplying gas to *Europe*, countries that are actively arming Ukraine, because they need the cash. Do you really think they'd mess with an airline of their main ally?

    The only consideration I could see is that, due to the war effort, Russia's airport services and ATC might be degraded to the point where it may not be safe. Furthermore, due to Western sanctions, if CX diverts due to mechanical issues, getting parts imported to the diversion airport to fix the plane might be problematic (would probably require some sort of diplomatic exception which would need negotiation at the highest levels of government given that both Airbus and Boeing are specifically banned from exporting spare parts to Russia right now). If I had to guess, this is probably the main reason CX is reluctant to divert to Russia, even while using Russian airspace. Not some Hollywood movie plot about Russia taking passengers from a routine diversion as hostages.

  4. Finnish Guest

    Basically this means that Cathay is funding the war with the money they need to spend for using Russian airspace. That's something everyone should think from now on when using Cathay. Writing this from Finland so this situation really sucks since all routes to Asia is 2-3 hours longer but Im still happy that airlines are not funding Russia with using their airspace.

    1. Jesse Guest

      After reading the comments, I just have to shake my head. As an American who lives and works in Russia, a lot of the notions about Russia spouted by uninformed individuals are absolute nonsense. Do in-depth research to really understand the root causes of the conflict, because you'll get no unbiased media sources, neither from Russia, the US, Ukraine, etc. All the media is too emotionally involved in creating an "us vs. them" mentality.
      ...

      After reading the comments, I just have to shake my head. As an American who lives and works in Russia, a lot of the notions about Russia spouted by uninformed individuals are absolute nonsense. Do in-depth research to really understand the root causes of the conflict, because you'll get no unbiased media sources, neither from Russia, the US, Ukraine, etc. All the media is too emotionally involved in creating an "us vs. them" mentality.
      Regarding the flights over Russia, no, you won't end up in a gulag in Siberia if your plane has to make an emergency landing. No, you're not going to be arrested for no reason at the border. In fact, I've entered Russia dozens of times (including recently), and never once had problems, but was detained and aggressively questioned at the US border in Atlanta back in August because of my long absence from the US (I rode out the pandemic in Russia).

    2. MM Guest

      Congrats Jesse, you win the most amoral reader award, as the loan sketchy U.S. citizen still doing sketchy business in a sketchy kleptocracy.

  5. iamhere Guest

    The reality of the situation is that Cathay is using the Eastern part of the country which is not near Ukraine. Russia is a big place. To avoid the air space because of something several thousand miles away doesn't make sense either.

    1. Rotuma Diamond

      The guy who ordered the invasion of Ukraine is the same guy who controls the rest of the Russia. An emergency landing anywhere in Russia (due to a maintenance or medical emergency, or whatever) could still be problematic.

  6. D3kingg Guest

    Russia and Ukraine have been fighting for years long before this so called invasion. Look how big Russia is. Your chances of flying an ultra long haul without entering Siberia are null.

    1. Mh Diamond

      "so called invasion".

      Pretty obvious who you're shilling for when you try to deny Russia's invaded Ukraine.

  7. Baby Raptor Guest

    Only an NPC who follows the current thing would be thinking about where the plane flies over.

    1. TravelinWilly Diamond

      Only an incel would post garbage like yours.

    2. MM Guest

      “NPC” is a real red flag we’re dealing with like a 4chan basement dweller here

  8. Maryland Guest

    I remember a Malaysian flight to Amsterdam was shot with Russian ordinance over Ukraine about eight years ago. Russia denied responsibility as one would expect. It is this type of unaccountable action that should be considered before using Russian air space in the current political climate.

    1. BigTee New Member

      Um, I'm old enough to remember a Boeing 747-230B with the registration HL7442 which would never arrive at its final destination.

      Asia is continent filled with countries governed by notorious dictatorship. I always feel a certain level of risk when flying in Asia. I have second thoughts about many air routes in Asia.

  9. Jan Guest

    Great, now if you're a westerner, would you risk flying in a Chinese carrier over Russian airspace? To be honest most of us would probably be under the radar and would be unaffected, but I personally wouldn't risk an "emergency landing" in Russia because someone in your flight "has a bomb." Then again, I wouldn't risk flying CX or going to Hong Kong anyway.
    If you're connecting to another Asian city: EVA Air, Singapore,...

    Great, now if you're a westerner, would you risk flying in a Chinese carrier over Russian airspace? To be honest most of us would probably be under the radar and would be unaffected, but I personally wouldn't risk an "emergency landing" in Russia because someone in your flight "has a bomb." Then again, I wouldn't risk flying CX or going to Hong Kong anyway.
    If you're connecting to another Asian city: EVA Air, Singapore, ANA, JAL, Korean Air... these are all better options

  10. Krz Viking Guest

    As I recall, it was Russian Government who banned most of Western airlines from using Russian air space after Western countries banned Russian planes from entering their air space. It was never a problem for Chinese airlines.
    So, I would guess that if Russian Government right now would lift their ban, most of European airline would fly over Russia in order to save money and increase their profits.

  11. Greg Guest

    Will not fly any Carrier that goes over that country despite the time saving’s. When Russia starts acting like a real country instead of a gas station with nukes I may change my mind.

  12. Tim Dunn Diamond

    CX has been virtually shuttered because of covid restrictions and they are just now trying to get back in the longhaul business just as winter weather compounds the problems w/ avoiding Russian airspace.

    CX's JFK-HKG route can make it on the A350-1000 and avoiding Russian airspace if they can use polar routes over Canada and Alaska and then come back down paralleling Japan but there are frequent winter storms over the Aleutians which make it...

    CX has been virtually shuttered because of covid restrictions and they are just now trying to get back in the longhaul business just as winter weather compounds the problems w/ avoiding Russian airspace.

    CX's JFK-HKG route can make it on the A350-1000 and avoiding Russian airspace if they can use polar routes over Canada and Alaska and then come back down paralleling Japan but there are frequent winter storms over the Aleutians which make it impossible to use those routes, forcing the flight over SEA/YVR and then over to Japan. They have flown JFK-HKG over Europe and Central Asia but either route gets harder and harder to do with winter weather.

    As long as US airlines have to avoid Russian airspace, UA will not be able to restart its EWR-HKG flight so cx sees an opportunity just as Air India does from SFO to India.

    The temptation to gain economically often transcends political ideologies.

    1. TimDunnLover101 New Member

      Agreed, could be dangerous but CX needs to take that risk rn. Interesting fact about the weather over the Aleutians, didn’t know there could be storms that bad affecting air travel

  13. Golfingboy Guest

    Well look at what Belarus did with Ryanair when they wanted someone who was on that plane.

    Wouldn’t be far-fetched for Russia.

    Those who elects to book on CX for personal travel will do so at their own risk. Many companies I am positive will have CX removed from the approved carrier list for the safety and security of their employees.

    1. BigTee New Member

      Exactly. This precedent set by Belarus and RyanAir remains my biggest concern; kidnapping insurance would have to allay this concern.

      The other concerns about the US-Russia proxy war in Russia, the West's cut back on commerce with Russia, etc., don't interest me as long as western airlines continue to purchase Saudi oil on the world oil market.

  14. Creditcrunch Diamond

    And yet again we see the slow grip of China on the peninsula of Hong Kong, they should drop the SAR and just re unify, get the pain over with. I feel so sad for Hong Kong citizens.

  15. Andy Diamond

    Well, from a Russian perspective, it is not illegal for US citizens to enter the country. They need a visa, but in case of a diversion, the police usually escort the passengers and crew to a hotel and no visa is needed. So no relevant risk, if you ask me.

    1. Eskimo Guest

      No relevant risk?

      You probably never heard of Brittney Griner.
      CX is doing the right thing to avoid diversion to Russia.

    2. SwimBikeFly Guest

      LOL if you don't want to be thrown in a foreign jail, maybe just maybe don't break that county's laws

    3. Mh Diamond

      Uh, yeah... because Russia always follows the laws and applies them fairly.

      Just look at any of the headline matters involving Russia to see how untrue that is.

    4. SwimBikeFly Guest

      Well, simpleton, Russia is a sovereign nation that can make its own laws. They have chosen, rightly, to ban marijuana. Brittany decided she was above that law, got caught, and is now suffering the consequences.

    5. Eskimo Guest

      Well, super simpleton, when diversions happen, unless you're the pilot, you don't get to chose which sovereign nation you will end up at.

      We all know she's a political pawn. If a super simpleton like SwimBikeFly got caught with the same thing 3 years ago, you would probably get locked up a few days then get deported. If super simpleton SwimBikeFly got caught today, it's probably the gulag.

    6. jansaigon New Member

      Ad hominem attack for the loss. Revealing....

      She is 100% a political pawn at this point, despite whatever you think about plants.

    7. Steve Diamond

      Political pawn, yes 100%. Still doesn't change the fact that she broke a law and got caught though. Both things can be true.

  16. Bobo Bolinski Guest

    You take a chance getting on one of these flights. Sooner or later, one of their aircraft will need to divert while over Russian airspace. CX can spout talking points about how they would never divert to a Russian airport, but come on, what is a Chinese promise worth? (See, One Nation Two Systems policy). Your flight or someone on it has issues, you're landing in Russia "out of an abundance of caution" of course....

    You take a chance getting on one of these flights. Sooner or later, one of their aircraft will need to divert while over Russian airspace. CX can spout talking points about how they would never divert to a Russian airport, but come on, what is a Chinese promise worth? (See, One Nation Two Systems policy). Your flight or someone on it has issues, you're landing in Russia "out of an abundance of caution" of course. You de-plane somewhere in Siberia. Start thinking about the foreign hostages now in Russian gulags hoping for a prisoner swap someday.

    1. BBK Diamond

      So true, and especially the part 'hoping for a prisoner swap someday'. The current administration already swapped the Flores 'Narcosobrinos', nieces of the dictator Nicolás Maduro who smuggled almost a tonne of cocaine into the US, for innocent American political prisoners (CITGO executives) in Venezuela.

  17. SJC New Member

    ‘As of November 2022, Pacific will resume using Russian airspace on select flights to North America.’

    *Cathay Pacific*

  18. Henry Young Guest

    They are offering competitive pricing from Asia to Europe too :)

  19. John Guest

    A second-tier airline from a second-tier Chinese city resuming flight paths from a second-tier nation which overflies a third-tier nation. News?

    1. Akg Guest

      Have you been to Hong Kong or flown Cathay Pacific first class?

    2. MM Guest

      I’ve flown cathay pacific to hong kong in 1st before. JAL in first is much nicer, despite the bizarre love OMaT had for cathay pacific first for a while. Hong Kong was fine. No biggie. A bit tacky.

    3. Kor Guest

      You forgot to add "flying to third-tier nation" ;)

    4. VladG Member

      I never cease to be amazed by US exceptionalism. This "second-tier Chinese city" is cleaner and safer than any large US city by a long mile. Not to mention that Cathay Pacific is infinitely better than literally any American airline.

    5. X-CCCP Member

      Vlad - and yet.....thousands (if not tens of thousands) are trying to get into the US on a daily basis....TO LIVE.... not just to visit to practice their Mandarin or try Manhattan clam chowder......Conundrum, huh?

    6. Peter Guest

      Well, most Chinese and Hong Kongers want to move to Canada rather than the US.

    7. notbad41 Guest

      I could walk around Hong kong anytime of the day and not feel in danger for one second. I would not go walking in any major USA city after 8pm. The human waste in San Fran and Portland is third world country level.

    8. MM Guest

      I see you are someone with compassion for the homeless and a strange fear of “others”. You should get out more, life doesn’t have to be so scary.

    9. Eskimo Guest

      @VladG

      You get the meanings all wrong. You should never overestimate the intelligence of an average John.

      A second-tier airline from a second-tier Chinese city resuming flight paths from a second-tier nation which overflies a third-tier nation.

      Air Canada from Vancouver resuming flight paths from Canada overflies Mongolia.

    10. thinkfreely Guest

      nice opinion.

      My mind feels much safer roaming any dark US city than in HK with their thought police lurking in every shadow.

    11. BigTee New Member

      I never cease to be amazed by CP apologists. Welcome to the real world, where real air passengers desire neither kidnapping and prision labor by Russian dictators nor quarantining and prison labor by Chinese CP.

  20. Lee Guest

    Hong Kong is China and 2047 is here. China and Russia are close and if you are not aware there is a lot of Russian business now flowing into HK. This only establishes the fact that Cathay (which means China) is not worried about flying in Russian Airspace as no one will bother them.

  21. David Guest

    Existing aircraft types do not have the ability to fly NYC/BOS/WAS/ORD/YYZ-HKG nonstop with a full payload without going over Russia. HK had hotel quarantine so not many people traveled - for a time this was fine but now it is reopened passenger numbers have significantly increased. CX would have to basically discontinue its transpacific network in order to not use Russian airspace. While AY pretty much did just this, HK is not a part of...

    Existing aircraft types do not have the ability to fly NYC/BOS/WAS/ORD/YYZ-HKG nonstop with a full payload without going over Russia. HK had hotel quarantine so not many people traveled - for a time this was fine but now it is reopened passenger numbers have significantly increased. CX would have to basically discontinue its transpacific network in order to not use Russian airspace. While AY pretty much did just this, HK is not a part of the EU and similar sanctions do not apply. No one should expect CX to follow AY as an HK entity why would it burn money to follow rules that don't apply to it?

    It's also not down to the Chinese government. AI uses Russian airspace for a similar reason (they cannot operate to the US west coast nonstop otherwise, and guess what that's where the high-yielding tech traffic is, very similar to CX where the high yielding traffic is to the east coast financial centers). As time goes on more and more carriers will return to Russian air space. I won't be surprised even if JL/NH/KE did so in the next year or two. EU carriers would be a long time away...

    1. Kuloko Guest

      Correct, without flights over Eastern Russia CX would have to either cancel or unload some cargo/passengers from some flights. Saving fuel (which China buys from Russia) is always a good idea.
      I do see many comments saying how dare CX is trying to get back into their core business. But I am sure that the same folks are buying staff from China and typing this on Chinese made laptops. Keeping in mind that China...

      Correct, without flights over Eastern Russia CX would have to either cancel or unload some cargo/passengers from some flights. Saving fuel (which China buys from Russia) is always a good idea.
      I do see many comments saying how dare CX is trying to get back into their core business. But I am sure that the same folks are buying staff from China and typing this on Chinese made laptops. Keeping in mind that China did not stop trading with Russia and is running its economy partially on Russian energy, would you change your habits tomorrow?

  22. Never In Doubt Guest

    “ The reality is that China/Hong Kong aren’t really taking much of a stand with this conflict”

    Nonsense.

    There are two “stands”.

    There is the “We will sanction/no longer do business with Russia” stand.

    And there’s the “We will continue to do business with Russia and not sanction them” stand.

    China/Hong Kong is taking the second “stand”.

    1. Bobo Bolinski Guest

      Absolutely.

      There's a fascist nation at war with the world. You play ball with them, or you don't. Not complicated.

    2. Mantis Guest

      Dropping the F word? It's lost all meaning after you accuse half this country of being fascist. Now it just means basically some leftist on a keyboard is upset his mom didn't do his laundry. Pretty sure ole Vlad wants things back how they were in the old USSR, and there's another word for that ideology: Communist. So he's your comrade there, lefty.

    3. Petri Diamond

      #Mantis
      As a non-political European, I am just curious why do you get so upset if Russia is called a fascist nation? Generally it is understood, that a fascist ruler wields supreme power and authority over a country. Wouldn't that apply to the current state of affairs in Russia, a country that complicates the lives of all of us?

    4. Lune Gold

      And yet it's Trump and the Republican party that's actively rooting for Putin to win while "lefty" Joe Biden is the one trying to take him down and support the democracy in Ukraine. Guess that makes Trump a communist?

    5. D3kingg Guest

      @Lune

      The ME3 fly to Moscow . I have a Russian tourist visa. I just need to pay everything in rubles as US bank issued credit cards won’t work there. Visa , AMEX , MasterCard, etc won’t work at your hotel.

      Who’s winning the war ? Have more Russians died or Ukrainians ? How did Zallenskyy become a billionaire overnight ? What did you think of his vanity fair photo shoot ? How would...

      @Lune

      The ME3 fly to Moscow . I have a Russian tourist visa. I just need to pay everything in rubles as US bank issued credit cards won’t work there. Visa , AMEX , MasterCard, etc won’t work at your hotel.

      Who’s winning the war ? Have more Russians died or Ukrainians ? How did Zallenskyy become a billionaire overnight ? What did you think of his vanity fair photo shoot ? How would you know what is really going on over there when Russian news has been banned and your only news source is NPR due to censorship?

    6. SwimBikeFly Guest

      When you say a "facist nation" you're referring to the US and the Biden Admin, right?

    7. MM Guest

      Please take it from the guy commenting here who studied, wrote about academically, and knows a lot about fascism, which isn’t you, that Putin easily satisfies the core tenants of what is defined in modern times as ideological fascism.

      Also this D3kingg person is an insane conspiracy theorist who should be IP-banned, fwiw, unless that’s an audience you want to cultivate, Ben.

  23. Andrew Guest

    Can I suggest an update to the opening sentence for accuracy. Instead of stopped avoiding, maybe stopped utilizing or stopped using. The opening is inaccurate as outlined in the rest of the article.

    1. Ben Schlappig OMAAT

      @ Andrew -- Thanks for the correction! Haven't had enough coffee yet, clearly. Fixed.

Featured Comments Most helpful comments ( as chosen by the OMAAT community ).

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Never In Doubt Guest

“ The reality is that China/Hong Kong aren’t really taking much of a stand with this conflict” Nonsense. There are two “stands”. There is the “We will sanction/no longer do business with Russia” stand. And there’s the “We will continue to do business with Russia and not sanction them” stand. China/Hong Kong is taking the second “stand”.

12
Bobo Bolinski Guest

Absolutely. There's a fascist nation at war with the world. You play ball with them, or you don't. Not complicated.

10
Maryland Guest

I remember a Malaysian flight to Amsterdam was shot with Russian ordinance over Ukraine about eight years ago. Russia denied responsibility as one would expect. It is this type of unaccountable action that should be considered before using Russian air space in the current political climate.

9
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