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View Full Version : Flying through another nations airspace in a commercial jet


Cartooniverse
07-16-2008, 02:04 AM
How exactly are such things worked out? By the airlines or by nations? I am in Narita Airport in Japan. Just landed from Newark. We flew over Russia. How is it worked out that we can fly over Russia?

Does Russia track all flights, do all nations track all flights? I seem to remember a few years ago that a flight was shot down inside of Chinese airspace, but I think that was a military plane, and one assumes different rules apply.

Who arranges rights to foreign airspace?

Cartooniverse

Quartz
07-16-2008, 03:48 AM
You may be thinking of Korean Airlines KAL 007, a passenger jet that was shot down by Russia with great loss of life.

Sublight
07-16-2008, 03:53 AM
You may be thinking of Korean Airlines KAL 007, a passenger jet that was shot down by Russia with great loss of life.
There was also a US military reconnaissance plane that was forced to land in China in 2001. No loss of life, but some disagreement over who had the right to be where.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hainan_Island_incident

Richard Pearse
07-16-2008, 04:09 AM
Well, commercial flights are all scheduled and agreed to between the destination, departure and operating countries (if different.) If United wants to fly from LA to Sydney via Auckland then it needs to come to an agreement with both the New Zealand and Australian authorites to allow the schedule. Note the agreement is for a schedule, not a single flight. For enroute airspace, progressive clearances are coordinated between the controllers of the adjacent airspace. Presumably there are long standing agreements between all of the countries to allow legitimate commercial traffic.

Desert Nomad
07-16-2008, 04:25 AM
There was also an Iranian commercial jet that was shot down by the USA, killing all 290 passengers. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iran_Air_Flight_655

Countries get paid for overflight rights and have full say in the matter. I was once on a flight from Bangkok to Frankfurt, when we crossed over a small portion of the then-USSR north of Afghanistan. The crew ordered everyone to close all the window shades for the 20 minutes that we were in Soviet airspace.

WormTheRed
07-16-2008, 05:41 AM
There was also an Iranian commercial jet that was shot down by the USA, killing all 290 passengers. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iran_Air_Flight_655

Countries get paid for overflight rights and have full say in the matter. I was once on a flight from Bangkok to Frankfurt, when we crossed over a small portion of the then-USSR north of Afghanistan. The crew ordered everyone to close all the window shades for the 20 minutes that we were in Soviet airspace.

And what was that supposed to accomplice? Special stealth materials in the shades? Or didn't the Russkis want anyone to be able to photograph the ground?

PaulParkhead
07-16-2008, 07:09 AM
And what was that supposed to accomplice? Special stealth materials in the shades? Or didn't the Russkis want anyone to be able to photograph the ground?

Pretty much - in the USSR days, it was illegal to take photographs from the air.

WormTheRed
07-16-2008, 07:42 AM
Cool. More trivia added to the brain allowing me to win at Trivial Pursuit.

jayjay
07-16-2008, 07:45 AM
Pretty much - in the USSR days, it was illegal to take photographs from the air.

It's my understanding that the Soviets allowed no accurate maps to be made of pretty much any part of the country (I think we didn't find out just how distorted every publicly available map of, say, Moscow, was until after the USSR fell). I'd imagine the aerial photography ban was part of that.

MikeS
07-16-2008, 08:36 AM
There was also an Iranian commercial jet that was shot down by the USA, killing all 290 passengers. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iran_Air_Flight_655The Vincennes incident was pretty egregious, but it's not quite on point — the Strait of Hormuz is nowhere near the United States' airspace. KAL 007 is just the most recent example of a commercial airliner getting into trouble by flying into the wrong airspace, though; other such incidents include:
1955: El Al 402 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/El_Al_Flight_402), shot down by Bulgaria after going off-course
1973: Libyan Arab Airlines 114 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Libyan_Arab_Airlines_Flight_114), which got lost in a sandstorm and was shot down over the Sinai peninsula by Israeli jets
1978: Korean Air 902 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Korean_Air_Flight_902), forced to land after making a wrong turn at Greenland and ending up in Soviet airspace

CookingWithGas
07-16-2008, 08:44 AM
Does Russia track all flights, do all nations track all flights?I don't know how the political/commercial part of the agreements work, but in the US there are large areas controlled by en route centers. When a flight is over a center, that center's controllers are responsible for the flight. If the flight leaves that center to enter another, or enters a TRACON (Terminal radar approach control) which manages arrivals and departures at a block of airports, there is a handoff protocol between centers. I would imagine that other countries do the same thing. (I do not know who controls flights that are over open ocean.)

You can bet that a country knows about every aircraft that is flying in its airspace, if it has any air traffic control or military capability. That is, they know there is something there, and they get mighty nervous if it's unidentified.

Really Not All That Bright
07-16-2008, 08:58 AM
The Vincennes incident was pretty egregious, but it's not quite on point — the Strait of Hormuz is nowhere near the United States' airspace.
There is a joint US/UK military installation on the at Mussandam, on the very tip of the Horn of Arabia (nominally on Omani territory), overflight of which has never been permitted except by Oman Air jets.

lieu
07-16-2008, 09:02 AM
There was also a US military reconnaissance plane that was forced to land in China in 2001. No loss of life, ...Not on the EP-3 but the Chinese fighter pilot was killed.

Really Not All That Bright
07-16-2008, 09:27 AM
Not on the EP-3 but the Chinese fighter pilot was killed.
By an unarmed recon jet? Because of a collision, I'm guessing...

Sublight
07-16-2008, 10:47 AM
Not on the EP-3 but the Chinese fighter pilot was killed.
I misread the wiki article and thought he had made it to safety as well. My mistake.

Tripler
07-16-2008, 10:56 AM
To answer the OP, there is an international governing body called the International Civil Aviation Organization (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Icao), which is attached to the UN, and serves as an international forum for the arrangements necessary between countries.

By and large, nations realize that commercial aviation brings commerce, and commerce brings money (either in the form of taxes or an infusion of capital). Thus (and in theory), nations are generally accepted as wanting commercial aviation services, so they'll negotiate to get it. For this, they'll draft up national codes and regulations to promote it, including certification of airlines, pilots, and airframes and the business practices of all those too. It's that regulatory stuff that the airlines then have to flesh out if they want to fly into or out of a country. Sure, Tooniverse Airlines can fly your cargo and people within the United States all it wants, but if it wants to fly that stuff to France and pick up a shipment of escargo for cargo, get it!, it then has to meet all 'o' France's rules of the skies.

So, to answer your question(s), national governments meet to agree to standards of international commercial aviation (a lot of it is based on the available technology of the time). These agreements are enforced by the national agencies who have the teeth to enforce such agreements. The airlines then have to meet the regulations of the national agencies. As far as the actual flight itself? That's handled by each nations air traffic control systems. . .

Interests in commerce dicate that flights will happen, but individual nations' specifics on what happens during those flights are subtle--the methods all have to be within the guidelines or commercial air navigation laid out by the ICAO. It is possible that nations will not allow flights into other/their countries for political reasons (i.e. the US and Cuba). That's more political in nature, but is again enforced by the national agencies, and if necessary, but the nations' Air Forces as well.

Military flights are a whole other thread, but I do have friends that worked in CAOCs and handled the various international clearances for flights. Things for them got hectic at times, especially if there were weapons involved, or if there was hazardous cargo onboard.

Tripler
Have I confused you yet?

hibernicus
07-16-2008, 03:48 PM
I've done a couple of exams in Flight Law for my PPL, and we were taught that Article 5 of the Chicago Convention permits any signatory country's civil aircraft to fly over the territory of any other signatory country. However this does not apply to scheduled aircraft, which need to get permission to do so.

So, in theory, I can transit Russian or US airspace in a Cessna 150 without asking anyone's permission. I don't know how that would play out in practice.

I've been flying between Europe and Japan about once a year for the last 10 years or so, usually with KLM. About three years ago there was a change in the route.

Previously, we had flown eastward across Russia, across the Sea of Japan coast, and then south to Kansai (passing to the east of the Korean peninsula).

More recently, the plane has taken a more direct route: east across Russia as before, then cutting south across Mongolia and China, then west to east across the Yellow Sea and South Korea.

The difference is that while we previously did not fly over China, we do now. We still avoid North Korea, however.

Going back further in time, flights between Japan and Europe used to avoid the USSR and fly the opposite way around the world, with a stopover in Alaska.

Tripler
07-16-2008, 04:46 PM
I've done a couple of exams in Flight Law for my PPL, and we were taught that Article 5 of the Chicago Convention permits any signatory country's civil aircraft to fly over the territory of any other signatory country. However this does not apply to scheduled aircraft, which need to get permission to do so.

This would help explain Mathias Rust's (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mathias_Rust) little endeavor. :D

Tripler
"Yeah, what the hell, let's turn right at Oslo. . . I'm just going for a visit."

Cartooniverse
07-18-2008, 05:54 AM
Hi I'm back. Don't you HATE Dopers who start threads and never return? I do ! :D

It's 7:49 p.m. Friday here. Just now back online. Great info, and a tip 'o the hat to Tripler. I was indeed thinking of KAL 007.

Depending on the tail wind, we may do what we did last November when I was in Japan going home. We flew the fat way, across the Pacific. The weather was such that we had an immense tailwind and we flew 14 hours TO Tokyo from Newark over the top of the globe, and 10 hours BACK to Newark straight across the Pacific. That's a hell of a tail wind.

ETA: What defines "air space" in terms of altitude?? At what point does a nation not own the air? Is there a vertial equivalent to the 12-mile limit?

Tripler
07-18-2008, 06:54 AM
ETA: What defines "air space" in terms of altitude?? At what point does a nation not own the air? Is there a vertial equivalent to the 12-mile limit?

The Master Speaks. (http://www.straightdope.com/classics/a5_136.html)

As the Perfect One™ indicates, your space is good insofar as it doesn't bother you directly. It becomes national airspace above that. It becomes outer space above the range of the ability of the nation to exercise power over it. I think the "high seas" follows the same concept, except humans can't naturally abide in space floating around as easily as they can on the water.

Tripler
I've got friends that fly 60k+ feet over countries. In a U-2 yes, we've still got 'em around

Really Not All That Bright
07-18-2008, 08:21 AM
I think the "high seas" follows the same concept, except humans can't naturally abide in space floating around as easily as they can on the water.

Actually, "high seas" by definition are international waters. In territorial waters, the same concept applies, though.

slaphead
07-18-2008, 08:57 AM
nations realize that commercial aviation brings commerce, and commerce brings money (either in the form of taxes or an infusion of capital).
Don't airlines also have to pay transit fees? I seem to recall reading that a few years back Laos' single largest source of foreign revenue was airlines paying to fly over it.

Desert Nomad
07-18-2008, 09:51 AM
Don't airlines also have to pay transit fees? I seem to recall reading that a few years back Laos' single largest source of foreign revenue was airlines paying to fly over it.

Yep. My dad used to fly 747s in the 80s he said they always had to check in when crossing Laos, but that their (the Lao) equipment was ancient and it was like flying into a black hole. For a poor country, all the flights to Bangkok could well be a primary income earner.

suranyi
07-18-2008, 11:26 AM
Don't airlines also have to pay transit fees? I seem to recall reading that a few years back Laos' single largest source of foreign revenue was airlines paying to fly over it.

Yes, and not only that, but I recently read an article in which it said that United Airlines had updated their route planning software to take that into consideration. In other words, when planning a route from San Francisco to London, the route was planned to take the lowest cost taking into account the old factors of fuel and weather as well as the new factor of the fee to Canada, which is proportional to the length of the of flight path over Canada.

This results in a balancing act: Flying over Canada more generally results in a shorter flight, leading to lower fuel costs, but higher fees to Canada.

Of course, now that fuel has gotten more expensive, the balance is shifting back to the shorter path, more over Canada. But the point is until just a few years ago, the Canada fee wasn't even considered.

Ed

paperbackwriter
07-18-2008, 12:18 PM
I was once on a flight from Bangkok to Frankfurt, when we crossed over a small portion of the then-USSR north of Afghanistan. The crew ordered everyone to close all the window shades for the 20 minutes that we were in Soviet airspace.
Huh? Unless you had some intermediate stop, I think you'd be over Soviet airspace for a lot more than 20 minutes at that time. Map of the Great Circle route from Bangkok to Frankfurt:
http://gc.kls2.com/cgi-bin/gc?MAP-STYLE=&MARKER-STYLE=default&PATH=BKK-FRA&PATH-COLOR=red&PATH-MINIMUM=&PATH-STYLE=&PATH-UNITS=mi&RANGE=&RANGE-COLOR=navy&RANGE-STYLE=best&SPEED-GROUND=&SPEED-UNITS=kts

slaphead
07-18-2008, 12:24 PM
Huh? Unless you had some intermediate stop, I think you'd be over Soviet airspace for a lot more than 20 minutes at that time. Map of the Great Circle route from Bangkok to Frankfurt:
http://gc.kls2.com/cgi-bin/gc?MAP-STYLE=&MARKER-STYLE=default&PATH=BKK-FRA&PATH-COLOR=red&PATH-MINIMUM=&PATH-STYLE=&PATH-UNITS=mi&RANGE=&RANGE-COLOR=navy&RANGE-STYLE=best&SPEED-GROUND=&SPEED-UNITS=kts
Great circles are the best way to shorten your ground distance, but I think considerations of jet streams, wather, traffic routing, transit fees and politics lead flights to depart from them fairly often. See suranyi's post.

pilot141
07-18-2008, 09:57 PM
Just some more anecdotal info:

US flagged-airliners can fly over/through Cuban airspace - they just get a bill from the Cubans for it. They do the same cost/benefit analysis that suranyi referred to concerning Canada. I have had to overfly Cuba (unplanned) because we were avoiding weather, and the Cubans simply noted our flight number, when and where we checked in and where we left. Money changes hands and everyone is happy.

For military aircraft it is a completely different story. Even flying my trusty C-141 around the world required diplomatic clearances from every country. Most close US allies (the UK, Germany, Japan, Korea) would issue "blanket" diplomatic clearances for each year. They would have one for cargo aircraft, one for fighters, one for tankers, etc. Just put that on the flight plan and you were good to go.

For other countries it got MUCH more specific, but this thread is about commercial flights so I'll stop.

rbroome
07-20-2008, 08:54 AM
By an unarmed recon jet? Because of a collision, I'm guessing...
4 engine turboprop- not exactly a jet.