Why are so many international flights going round and round?

Passengers still think that the flight path from one country to another is simply as straight as a bird’s flight. The truth is not so.

Nowadays, air travel has become very popular. According to data from the aviation tracking website FlightRadar24, there are about 16,000 civil flights every day to all continents. According to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), in 2018 there were a total of 38 million flights globally with 4.3 billion passengers.

Why are so many international flights going round and round?
International flights are quite roundabout, not “straight” as many people think – (Photo: REUTERS).

Passengers still think that the flight path from one country to another is simply a straight line like a crow flies. The truth is not, the long and short distance of each international air route is determined by many different factors.

Civil airlines cannot fly their planes on the desired route. Because in addition to the technical problems of flight and weather conditions, there are also problems caused by people: national security, diplomatic conflicts between countries, legal disputes. These are the factors that determine the long/short distance of each route.

Why are so many international flights going round and round?
Every day there are 16,000 civil flights worldwide – (Screenshot FLIGHTRADAR24).

In 1944, the United States held a conference on international civil aviation in the city of Chicago to establish a mechanism for coordination and management of international civil aviation between countries. One of the main goals is to relax airspace restrictions for civil routes.

However, the participating countries did not find a common voice. Therefore, each country establishes its own regulations on airspace management and charges civil airlines for using their airspace.

By the 1990s, the situation had improved when Russia and China agreed to open some airspace to foreign passenger aircraft. As a result, flight routes from the East Coast of the US to East Asia and from Europe to Asia are significantly shortened, bringing better economic efficiency to airlines.

Why are so many international flights going round and round?
The left photo is the civil flight routes from 1990 to the past, the right photo is after Russia opened its airspace – (Image: FLIGHTRADAR24).

Many countries use airspace management as a profit-making tool and a key player in diplomatic disputes. Depending on the policy of a country for each airline, as well as depending on the diplomatic relationship between the countries involved, the fee for using the airspace and the distance of the route will vary greatly.

Countries with large territorial areas and strategic locations will dominate and dominate the civil aviation world. Especially when there is a diplomatic dispute, they will use the right to license flights as a tool to punish unfriendly countries.

For example, Russia, they can issue a license to fly an airline of this country but ban another country’s airline depending on the situation of Russia’s diplomatic relations with that country. Cargo flights using Russian airspace must pay a fee of 63 to 115 USD/way depending on the weight of the aircraft, while the fees for passenger flights are negotiated between the Russian government and the Russian government. and airlines.

In terms of fees for using airspace, the US is the country that earns a lot of money because it holds the right to manage a large airspace in the Pacific region.

Why are so many international flights going round and round?
The US is the country that collects the most fees for using the airspace because the airspace under the management of the US is very large – (Photo: FLIGHTRADAR24)

According to data from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the total area of airspace controlled by the United States is 75 million square kilometers (the area of airspace directly over the US territory is only 13.7 million square kilometers ). ). That’s why the irony is that an aircraft that does not land in the US like when flying from Japan to New Zealand still has to pay a fee because it flies over an area managed by the US.

The fee set by the US side is 26 USD per 100 nautical miles (185km). According to information from the FAA, in 2018 the agency authorized 16 million flights into US-administered airspace. It is estimated that about 50% of flights are crossing this airspace with a distance of 100 nautical miles, the total amount of money FAA collected up to 195 million USD.

The most thorny issue for airlines is that they are prohibited from flying into a certain area of airspace . This will cause the aircraft to evade the restricted area, which takes more flight hours and increases fuel consumption , and costs for crew and passengers also increase accordingly.

International routes are often victims of political conflicts between countries. In the 1960s and 1970s, Israeli planes could not fly over Arab airspace, and routes from Taiwan to Europe could not fly over Chinese airspace.

The latest is the case of Qatar Airways, Qatar’s civil airline, in May 2017 Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain and Egypt banned Qatari planes from flying over their airspace. So Qatar Airways flights have to circle around Africa or Iran to reach Europe. This has cost Qatar Airways more costs and increased flight time by 5 hours, which is very inconvenient for passengers.

Why are so many international flights going round and round?
Qatar Airways flight routes before (left photo) and after the ban (right photo) -(Photo: FLIGHTRADAR24).

Currently, Taiwan’s China Airlines and EVA Air are still banned by China from flying across mainland airspace, making flights from Taiwan to European countries take 2 to 5 hours more. While the Dutch airline’s KML plane also flew from Taiwan to Europe, it was not blocked by the Chinese side.

Why are so many international flights going round and round?
On the same route from Taiwan to Europe, KML (Netherlands) is allowed to fly across China’s airspace, Taiwanese airlines are banned – (Photo: FLIGHTRADAR24).

Norwegian airlines are also banned from flying over China’s airspace because the two countries have disagreements over a number of political issues. Therefore, routes from Europe to Asia must fly a detour to the south through the Arabian peninsula or across Iran and India to reach the final destination.

Due to the above factors, international routes from point A to location B are not straight lines as we draw on the map, but loop through many countries to reach the final destination.

This increases the operating costs of civil airlines, but in the end it is the passengers who suffer the consequences because they have to pay more for tickets and spend more time sitting on those roundabout flights.