Air India has defended paying the Kremlin millions of dollars to fly over Russian airspace as it prepares to expand its UK operations.
Despite the Kremlin’s war on Ukraine, Air India CEO Campbell Wilson said the airline was willing to fly over Russia to UK and US destinations “if that’s the way the winds are blowing and it’s most economical.”
This could result in millions of pounds being handed over to the Kremlin in so-called overflight charges. Prior to the pandemic, Russia made $1.7 billion (£1.4 billion) per year from overflight charges.
“You guys (the UK) are buying petrol, you are purchasing oil. How much investment do you have from the Russian diaspora in Kensington and other areas?”
“The entire principle of if Country A and Country B are at odds, and then Country A insists that Country C do X, Y, and Z. That is a precedent that I believe we should all be aware of.”
The United Kingdom has prohibited the importation of Russian oil and gas. In the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, ministers have also introduced new legislation requiring foreign companies holding UK property to identify their beneficial owners in a public register.
“I absolutely do not sanction, condone, or support the conflict. However, aviation is likely the most important enabler of global peace and connectivity because it brings people together, allows cultures to mix, and reduces humanity’s natural us versus them nature. Is it a negative or positive constraint? I believe it is a clear negative.”Air India CEO Campbell Wilson
Air India expansion
It comes as Air India plans a major expansion to compete with the likes of British Airways and Emirates. The company, which is India’s flag carrier, is funded by a joint venture between Tata, the owner of Jaguar Land Rover and Tata Steel, and Singapore Airlines.
The airline has already announced one of the largest aircraft orders in history. They plan to purchase 470 planes from Boeing and Airbus to overhaul their fleet.
After North America, Britain is Air India’s second-largest international market.
“Air India would begin flying from both Gatwick and Heathrow.”Wilson stated
Most Western airlines have grounded flights over Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine due to safety concerns and financial sanctions that prevent funding for Ukraine’s war.
Sir Richard Branson backed a ban on Chinese airlines arriving in the UK after flying through Russian airspace last November.
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