Flying free over Siberia

RIA Novosti/Igor Zarembo
Russia is planning to cancel fees for foreign airlines using airspace over Siberia, thus making flights from Europe to Asia cheaper.

According to Deputy Minister of Transportation, Valery Okulov, the negotiations with foreign aviation authorities will begin as soon: “The exploitation of trans-Siberian routes will be transformed… our goal is to start talks on the 15th-16th of December”, he said. The deadline for the changes to come into forces also has been set – January 1st 2014.

Russia is the only country, which charges airlines for its airspace, which mainly affects the costs of flights from Europe to Asia. Many experts say this fee as a leftover from the Cold War when USSR airspace was closed and foreign airlines could use it only if they made payments to the state.

The agreements with foreign airlines to cancel this fee was signed back in 2006. According to Okulov, one of the preconditions for Russia’s WTO accession is for them to finally come into force. Russia also reached a similar agreement with the EU in 2007: back then Brussels demanded Moscow should gradually start reducing the fee straight away. The EU also wanted new routes over Siberia to be free of royalties. However, Russia signed separate agreements with Germany, France, Austria and Finland, which kept the royalties in place. The European Commission strongly criticized the deal saying it violated EU law by not providing equal conditions for all airlines from the 27 states of the Union. 

Earlier, the Minister of Transportation, Igor Levitin, announced Russia is not planning to gradually reduce fees for trans-Siberian flights until 2013, but is ready to cancel the so-called “fee for landing in Moscow” during flights across the country. When the fee is lifted, Russia estimates it will lose from 10 to 15% of revenues it gets from planes flying over the country. But on the other hand, Moscow hopes this step will trigger EU authorities to give additional European routes to Russian airlines. Starting 2014 foreign airlines using Russian airspace will only have to pay for air navigation services and commerce-related fees, which all Russian airlines will be able to collect and not only Aeroflot as the system works today.