Why do so many international flights go round and round?

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

Passengers still think that the flight 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 the data of the aviation tracking website FlightRadar24, there are about 16,000 civil flights to every continent every day. International Civil Aviation Organization ICAO said that in 2018 there were a total of 38 million flights worldwide with 4.3 billion passengers.

Picture 1 of Why do so many international flights go round and round? Photo 1 of Why do so many international flights go round and round?
International flights are quite round and not "straight" as many people think - (Image: REUTERS).

Flight is not like a dream

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

Civilian airlines cannot fly their aircraft on any route they prefer. Because in addition to the issues of aviation technology and weather conditions, there are also human-caused issues: national security, diplomatic conflicts among countries, legal disputes. These are the decisive factors for the long / short distance of each flight route.

Picture 2 of Why do so many international flights go round and round? Photo 2 of Why do so many international flights go round and round?
There are 16,000 civil flights worldwide every day - (Screenshot FLIGHTRADAR24)

In 1944, the United States organized a seminar on International Civil Aviation in the city of Chicago to establish mechanisms to coordinate and manage international civil aviation between countries. One of the main goals is to ease airspace restrictions for civilian routes.

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

By the 1990s, the situation was making positive progress when Russia and China agreed to open some airspace for foreign passenger airplanes to fly over. As a result, the flight routes from the US East Coast to East Asia, from Europe to Asia have been significantly shortened, bringing better economic efficiency for airlines.

Picture 3 of Why do so many international flights go round and round? Photo 3 of Why do so many international flights go round and round?
The left photo shows the civil flight routes from 1990 onwards, the right picture is after Russia opened the airspace - (Photo: FLIGHTRADAR24).

Many countries use airspace management as a means of making a profit and are an important card in diplomatic disputes. Depending on the policy of one country for each airline, as well as depending on the diplomatic relations between the countries concerned, the fee for using airspace and distance of flight will vary significantly.

Countries with large territory and strategically located will dominate and dominate civil aviation. Especially when diplomatic disputes occur, they will use their flight permission as a tool to punish unfriendly nations.

For example, Russia, it can issue a flight permit for one airline of this country, but it prohibits a carrier of another country depending on the situation of Russian diplomatic relations with that country. Cargo flights that use Russian airspace must pay between US $ 63 and US $ 115 per flight depending on the weight of the aircraft, while passenger flights will be subject to negotiation between the Russian government. and airlines.

In terms of airspace usage fees, the United States is the one that earns a lot of money because it holds control over a large area of ​​the Pacific Ocean.

Picture 4 of Why do so many international flights go round and round? Photo 4 of Why do so many international flights go round and round?
The US is the country that earns the most airspace usage fees because the airspace under US jurisdiction is huge - (Image: FLIGHTRADAR24)

According to data of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the total area of ​​airspace controlled by the United States is 75 million square kilometers (the direct area of ​​airspace in the US territory is only 13.7 million square kilometers). ). Therefore, the irony is that an aircraft does not land in the United States as when flying from Japan to New Zealand still has to pay fees for flying across the area managed by the United States.

The fee imposed by the US is 26 USD per 100 nautical miles (185km). According to FAA information, in 2018, the agency licensed 16 million flights to the US-controlled airspace. It is estimated that about 50% of flights fly across this airspace at a distance of 100 nautical miles, the total amount of FAA earned up to 195 million USD.

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

"Victims" of political conflict

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

The latest is the case of Qatar Airways, the civil airline of Qatar, in May 2017 Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain and Egypt banned Qatar aircraft from flying over their airspace. Therefore, Qatar Airways flights must fly around Africa or Iran to reach Europe. This has made Qatar Airways more costly and the flight time is increased by 5 hours, which is very inconvenient for passengers.

Picture 5 of Why do so many international flights go round and round? Photo 5 of Why do so many international flights go round and round?
Qatar Airways routes before (left image) and after being banned (right picture) - (Image: FLIGHTRADAR24).

Currently, China Airlines and EVA Air of Taiwan are still banned from flying across mainland Chinese airspace, making flights from Taiwan to European countries take an extra 2-5 hours. While Dutch KML aircraft also flew from Taiwan to Europe, it was not banned by China.

Picture 6 of Why do so many international flights go round and round? Photo 6 of Why do so many international flights go round and round?
Along the route from Taiwan to Europe, KML Company (Netherlands) is allowed to fly across Chinese airspace, Taiwanese firms are prohibited - (Photo: FLIGHTRADAR24).

Norwegian airlines are also prohibited from flying over Chinese airspace due to the two countries' disagreements over a number of political issues. Therefore, routes from Europe to Asia must make a detour to the south through the Arabian Peninsula or across Iran, India to reach the final destination.

Due to these factors, the international routes from point A to location B are not straight lines like the ruler on the map, but loop through many countries to reach the final destination.

This increased the operating costs of civil airlines, but in the end, it was the passengers who suffered the consequences because they had to pick up the extra pocket money and spend more time sitting on those roundabout flights.

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