How the invasion of Ukraine impacted civil aviation

#aviation #borders #war #russia #ukraine #kaliningrad

17 March 2022


As part of the sanctions against the invasion of Ukraine by Russian troops on February 24, 2022, the European Union decided to ban all Russian and Belarusian commercial missions (except humanitarian ones) from flying over its airspace. Russia responded by banning European flights from its territory. Through three before-and-after maps, we analyze below some of the consequences of this situation on civilian air traffic.

Analysis and mapping: Enrico Spinielli, Xavier Olive and Philippe Rivière

1. Europe-Japan rerouted flights

This map shows a selection of routes from various European airports to Japan. Due to the ban on flights over the huge Russian territory, most airlines have decided to fly South. Our map, based on FlightRadar24 data, shows two flown trajectories.

In blue, Japan Airlines flight JL44 heads northwest, over Iceland, Greenland, then northern Canada to reach Japan by flying along the Kuril Islands. This new flight plan adds three and a half hours of flight time, for an estimated additional 26 tons of kerosene.

In yellow, All Nippon Airways flight NH204 bypasses Russia in the South via Turkey, Kazakhstan, skirting the China/Mongolia border, for 1 hour and 40 minutes of extra time and 9 tons of kerosene.

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Data, methodology and details: How flights between Europe and Eastern Asia got disrupted.

2. Kaliningrad exclave on a wire

Forbidden to pass through Poland and Lithuania, the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad is now connected to Russian airspace only by the thin strip of international airspace that snakes through the Baltic Sea. Aircraft operated by Russian companies have no choice but to stay at least twelve nautical miles from both the Finnish and Estonian coast. The routes that used to connect Kaliningrad to St. Petersburg, Moscow or Minsk can only operate through this narrow corridor. Air traffic control services, which ensure flight safety, are provided as before by the authorities responsible for the corresponding flight information regions (FIR).

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Before February 27
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After February 28

Data, methodology and details: Flying to Kaliningrad during the Russian flight ban.

3. The GPS system under attack

At the beginning of March, many aircraft in the Baltic States and in Finland suffered from GPS jamming problems. Aircraft use Global Positioning System (GPS) satellites —in addition to onboard inertial systems— for both location and navigation purposes. Geolocation is based on electromagnetic signals received from at least 4 GPS satellites on specific frequencies. But it is possible from the ground to emit noise (or false information) on these same frequencies, in order to jam the signals of GPS systems, for example to hide a vehicle from being tracked, or as part of an electronic warfare strategy.

The following maps show a normal situation in February and a situation of severe GPS interference around Kaliningrad on 5 March 2022. The darker cells mean that many aircraft were affected by the GPS jamming. (Smaller cells mean that few aircraft were reported in this area.)

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Normal GPS disturbances, in February 2022
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A characterized interference situation, March 5, 2022

Technically, the HPL metric is the uncertainty of the aircraft position measurement, in meters; the red density depicts the percentage of aircraft that witnessed an uncertainty of more than 200m in the time period and in the hex cell concerned (these cells are only there for our calculations, they do not correspond to anything regulatory).

The GPS uncertainties can be explained by accidental interference (lightning falling on a radio transmitter, for example), or by frequency jammers.

It should be noted that these interferences do not a priori have a serious impact on air safety, as the GPS of the aircraft just complements the inertial navigation system and the radars used on the ground for air traffic control. But these small “cyber” disturbances contribute to creating instability, uncertainty and tension.

Data, methodology and details: GPS jamming around Kaliningrad.

↬ Enrico Spinielli, Xavier Olive & Philippe Rivière

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