Thursday, May 23, 2019

The Air Space Mafias

When you buy a ticket for an international flight the price will partly be determined by airspace fees, the charges that countries around the world require airlines to pay for flying in their airspace. For example an airline flying from Japan to New Zealand has to pay the USA a fee even though the flight goes nowhere near the USA. This is because the USA claims the airspace over a massive portion of the Pacific Ocean.

As well as using airspace as a form of generating revenue countries also use access to their airspace as a political tool. So flights to Israel historically have not been allowed to fly over Arab countries and Taiwanese flights cannot travel over mainland China. Recently Pakistan has restricted access to its airspace after an Indian airstrike was made on Pakistani territory.

The South China Post in Why the World's Flight Paths are Such a Mess has taken a closer look at the historical, political and financial reasons for why planes take the routes that they do. The story includes numerous maps of some of the strange flight paths that airlines have to take to get from A to B and a host of interesting facts about how flight restrictions and airspace fees can determine those routes.

Many flight routes have been improved in recent years because Russia and China have become a bit less restrictive in controlling the air space over their countries than during the height of the Cold War. However both China and Russia still have more restrictions than most western countries. The South China Post says that China will replace the US as the biggest flight market in the world by 2036. At the moment the army controls 80% of Chinese airspace. In order to manage the future growth in air travel the country will need to be a lot less restrictive over how its airspace is used.

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