Iberia and British Airways to re-route flights to avoid Russian airspace

IAG, owner of British Airways and Spanish carriers Iberia and Vueling, is re-routing aircraft to avoid flying over Russian airspace and cancelling its flights to Russia, its boss said Friday, amid international outcry over Moscow's invasion of Ukraine.

Iberia and British Airways to re-route flights to avoid Russian airspace
The UK has also banned Russian flagship carrier Aeroflot from flying over Britain as part of a series of sanctions. (Photo by ADRIAN DENNIS / AFP)

Chief executive Luis Gallego told reporters in a call that IAG was re-routing flights so as not to fly over Russia, and cancelled a Moscow bound flight.

The news came one day after the UK government banned Russian flagship carrier Aeroflot from flying over Britain as part of a series of sanctions against Russia following its invasion of neighbour Ukraine.

Moscow in retaliation on Friday banned all UK-linked planes, including transiting flights, from its airspace.

“We took the decision to cancel the flight… to Moscow today,” Gallego told a conference call for the group’s annual results on Friday.

The airline conglomerate was also re-routing scheduled flights to Singapore and Dubai so that they do “not fly over Russia”, he added.

Separately, IAG revealed Friday that net losses more than halved last year with recovery underway as Covid travel curbs were lifted.

However, it was also monitoring the Ukraine crisis that has shuttered airspace for civilian aircraft in the region.

“The impact of this crisis we are still monitoring,” Gallego noted.

He added that flights to the East were “very reduced” as a result.

“All the flights that we are doing now we can re-route, so we can maintain the schedule.”

There are currently no commercial flights landing in Ukraine after the Ukrainian government decided to close its airspace to them for safety reasons.

A number of European Airlines including Iberia, Vueling, Austrian Airlines, Lufthansa, Brussels Airlines, Swiss and Eurowings have also said they will cancel their flights to Ukraine until at least the end of February. 

‘Strong recovery’

IAG revealed that its loss after tax narrowed sharply to €2.9 billion ($3.3 billion) last year.

That contrasted with a record €6.9 billion in 2020, when the coronavirus emergency paralysed air travel and grounded flights worldwide.

Passenger capacity last year was 36 percent of its pre-pandemic 2019 level, but this reached 58 percent in the fourth quarter.

“The easing of government-imposed travel restrictions as the year progressed resulted in improving travel demand, in particular following the opening of the US border to foreign travellers” in early November, IAG said.

Total revenues climbed eight percent to almost €8.5 billion.

“We are confident that a strong recovery is underway,” said Gallego.

IAG noted also that the Omicron Covid variant, which emerged late last year, only had a “negative short term impact” on its performance.

Yet IAG expected a “significant” operating loss for the current first quarter, and cited seasonally weak demand, ongoing Omicron uncertainty, and rising costs as capacity is ramped back up.

The group then anticipates a return to profitability in the second quarter, but sounded a cautious note over this outlook.

“This assumes no further setbacks related to Covid-19 and government-imposed travel restrictions or material impact from recent geopolitical developments,” it cautioned.

IAG aims this year to return to 85 percent of its pre-pandemic passenger capacity.

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‘Totally unprecedented’: Ukraine flag sales soar at Spanish factory

Far from the war in Ukraine, Eric Borney never dreamed his factory in the calm Spanish countryside would smash sales records making Ukrainian flags.

'Totally unprecedented': Ukraine flag sales soar at Spanish factory

“Usually we make four or five Ukrainian flags each year. But we’ve made 1,000 flags in 10 days,” he said, as steam rises from a roll of blue and yellow fabric dyed for Ukraine’s national banner.

“And it’s going up every day,” he added from his factory in Normandy in northwestern France.

At the entrance to the manufacturing site, the blue and yellow Ukrainian flag floats between France’s tricolour and the company’s flag.

For factory seamstress Marie-Christine Sebert, making a Ukrainian flag is “something important”.

“We are showing (the Ukrainian people) that we are there for them, despite everything, even if we are not fighting side by side,” she told AFP.

Other manufacturers across the world have reported a rise in demand for the Ukrainian yellow and blue flag since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24.

French company Doublet’s subsidiaries in Spain and Germany “are receiving similar requests,” according to the parent company.

Borney’s family business saw previous sales peaks for major national events, including the 2015 Paris terrorist attacks and France’s top performance in the 2018 World Cup.

But nothing of this magnitude for another country’s flag, which he said is “totally unprecedented”.

“We did not expect this at all. France is not a border country. It’s 2,000 kilometres away,” he said.

“But people are more affected than if it’s a war in Africa or a bit farther away.”

With the spike in demand, the small business shot into action, delivering flags in under four days.

Borney didn’t say how much he’s earned from the surge in orders, only that it’s “not negligible” — particularly after losses due to the pandemic and a surge in prices for raw materials.