We are a group of private pilots, student pilots and general aviation enthusiasts who live in the European Union and we all share one common passion: flying. There is, however, one other thing we all share: Russian citizenship. Whilst some of us hold both EU and Russian citizenships, and others have permanent residency permits in EU, none of us support the regime of Vladimir Putin and Russian assault on Ukraine. Neither of us work for Russian airlines, nor do we have any connections to the Russian government. On the contrary, many of us are currently, actively, involved in humanitarian relief efforts. We are not oligarchs or war criminals. We are regular men and women who like to fly drones, gliders or light aircraft as a hobby or as a stepping stone towards a professional career.
What has happened?
On February 24, 2022 Russian military forces invaded Ukraine. In response to this act of aggression, European states reacted promptly by introducing harsh and unseen anti-Russian sanctions, which included, amongst many other things, a complete ban on all Russian flights within European air space. Similar measures were taken by the USA and Canada.
What does it mean?
It’s commonly believed that this measure, as it was intended, was concerned exclusively with Russian airlines and business jets of ultra-wealthy oligarchs who were sponsoring Vladimir Putin’s regime. However, the ban has exacted certain additional, unforeseen and frankly far-reaching legal consequences.
Upon introduction of EU Regulation 2022/334 on February 28, 2022 (Article 3d), in compliance with it, each EU country released a corresponding NOTAM, to this effect:
UKRAINIAN CRISIS – ALL RUSSIAN REGISTERED AIRCRAFT AND AIRCRAFT OWNED, CHARTERED OR OPERATED BY NATURAL OR LEGAL PERSONS FROM THE RUSSIAN FEDERATION OR BY OPERATORS HOLDING AIR OPERATOR CERTIFICATE (AOC) ISSUED BY THE RUSSIAN FEDERATION AUTHORITIES ARE PROHIBITED TO ENTER, EXIT OR OVERFLY THE NETHERLANDS AIRSPACE EXCEPT HUMANITARIAN, SAR AND LEASED AIRCRAFT ONE-WAY RETURN FLIGHTS WITH THE PERMISSION OF THE APPROPRIATE DUTCH AUTHORITIES AND IN CASE OF EMERGENCY LANDING OR EMERGENCY OVERFLIGHT. (Example of Dutch NOTAM)
The wording of this regulation is extremely broad, seemingly to apply to everyone and everything having any Russian connection whatsoever. Whilst clearly acting with the best intentions in mind, the EU Council, in adopting this measure, has caught all light general aviation pilots, living in Europe, with Russian passports off guard, posing the question: Does this mean that flying is forbidden for all of them too?
Having touched base with CAA’s of various European countries and EU consultation services, after attempts to reach EASA, and consequently consulting with the official explanatory FAQ document as well as the EASA FAQ, our worst fears have been confirmed.
The EU has effectively ruled that all pilots and aviation enthusiasts with Russian passports are prohibited from flying in clear European skies – regardless of where they live and whether they support Russia or not. Thus, the EU has de facto applied a principle of collective guilt, violating one of the fundamental human rights: no person may be punished for acts that he or she did not commit.
Before we proceed
This is the second version of the original article published in April 2022.
Like many of our local European friends, we naively believed that it’s just a collateral damage and the government will fix it soon. We believed that in the EU, you have nothing to worry about if you have not committed any offences. Unfortunately, we were all proven terribly wrong to have such high expectations. At this point there is no doubt left that the discriminatory measures taken against certain group of uninvolved individuals are not just administrative oversights, but an articulated intention of the government.
Over the past year, governmental institutions at all levels of nearly all EU member states have shown a disturbing level of neglect, reluctance to provide information, and a tendency to engage in questionable, quasi-legal practices. As a result, we have decided to expose more details. We do not expect this to be helpful for our cause, however, in the interest of European democracy and transparency, it is important to make this story as public as possible and provide a digital record of what has happened.
It must be made clear that this is no longer just about flying, but about the fundamental principles of the rule of law in the EU. Today it is Russians who are targeted, but tomorrow it could be any other group of people, based on their nationality or something else. Today it is about flying, but tomorrow it could be about your bank account or your home. Today these actions are taken under the excuse of sanctions, tomorrow it could be any other “good” reason to outlaw any group of individuals and leave them with no realistic means of protecting themselves.
How does it work
In particular, the ban is caused by the Article 3d of the Council Regulation (EU) 2022/334:
It shall be prohibited for any aircraft (…) which is owned or chartered, or otherwise controlled by any Russian natural or legal person, entity or body, to land in, take off from or overfly the territory of the Union.
However, paragraph 3 of the abovementioned article contains a possibility for the EU Member States to authorize any flight which purpose does not contradict with the objectives of the sanctions:
By way of derogation from paragraph 1, the competent authorities may authorise an aircraft to land in, take off from, or overfly, the territory of the Union if the competent authorities have determined that such landing, take-off or overflight is required for (…) any other purpose consistent with the objectives of this Regulation.
Despite this, most of Member States refused to apply this discretionary power. Moreover, almost all national authorities have refused to even acknowledge that a possibility of individual authorisations exists, referring to the European Commission. However, at our request, the European Commission confirmed that it does not have the authority to grant such authorisations and informed us that, under the EU Treaties, authorisations pursuant to the abovementioned paragraph 3 are a responsibility of the competent authority of the Member States, following an assessment on a case-by-case basis and taking into account all available evidence. That makes the behavior of the Member States even more weird, given the fact that the responses received by the affected pilots from the competent authorities of different EU countries repeat each other like a blueprint.
After sending several requests under the Freedom of Information Laws, we have found out the cause of this behavior.
It turned out that the European Commission has strongly advised the EU Member States not to grant personal exceptions according to the paragraph 3 of the Article 3d. This recommendation is based on concerns related to possible misuse of the exceptions to circumvent the restrictions. Although only EU Member States have the power to decide whether or not to apply the restrictions in each case, most of them do not want to act against the opinion of the European Commission. As a result, they strictly follow this unofficial recommendation, implementing a blanket flight ban. To justify the refusal to grant individual exceptions, they used to refer to the EASA FAQ that does not mention the possibility of exceptions at all. Not only was this FAQ written in conjunction with the European Commission, but it also does not have any legal power. Despite this, all Member States considered it to be a binding instruction. After our complaints to the European Ombudsman, EASA has added a corresponding disclaimer to their website. However, civil aviation authorities of Member States still actively refuse to accept the applications for exceptions under different pretexts.
Thus, the European Commission, going outside the legal system, established a quasi-legal mechanism to prevent EU Member States from issuing exceptions to uninvolved individuals, as permitted by the EU law. The existence of these unofficial agreements is actively suppressed and became known only due to Freedom of Information Laws. At the same time, the European Commission is fully aware that its actions lead to mass violations of the rights of EU citizens and residents who bear no responsibility for Russian assault on Ukraine.
Whom does it actually affect?
The flight ban applies to any aircraft registered, owned, chartered, or flown in the interest of a Russian individual or a legal entity. Whether it concerns light general aviation or not — doesn’t matter. The regulation doesn’t differentiate Russian business jets and airlines from regular Russian nationals who are:
- student pilots flying to get a license; or
- flight instructors or commercially rated pilots flying in EU (not in Russia) as a part of their own self-employment, sole proprietorship, or another type of legal entity; or
- non-commercial (private/recreational/sport) pilots, unable to use small aircraft as a hobby; or
- personal transportation (imagine you have been barred from driving a car solely because you were born in a wrong country); or
- for further training (it shall be understood that becoming a non-commercial hobby pilot is an unavoidable building brick to become a professional pilot in future); or
- other commercial pilots, who are legally allowed to fly while employed by an EU airline, yet losing their jobs as a result of over-compliance of their employers attempting to “play safe”; or
- glider/sailplane pilots (aircrafts without engine); or
- drone pilots.
Worth mentioning that the actual piloting of an aircraft remains permitted. But initiating a flight, e.g. renting, chartering, or taking your own aircraft, in other words, being a reason for a flight in any way — is not. Unlike the commercial or business aviation, pilots of the light aviation inevitably have to wear multiple hats, e.g. if you want to fly, for pleasure, for training, or for travel alike, you also have to go to your club or school and rent, let’s say, a Cessna 172. That’s why this ban is affecting general aviation this much and effectively outlaws all such flying for any Russian right now.
Here are some examples.
- Flying for sport, private, recreational, training, or skill testing purposes — forbidden
A citizen of Russia holding a private pilot license may not rent, let’s say, a small two-seater airplane from a local flying club to take his friend on a scenic flight over a lake. Similarly, this pilot may no longer extend his pilot license since instruction and prof-check flights are forbidden too.
For the same reason, except when done for the sole purpose of getting a job within an EU company, a student pilot from Russia may no longer continue his training in a flight school. Training for the purpose of self-employment, working as a sole proprietor, or for private purposes is forbidden.
- Commercial flights operated by a natural or legal body from Russia — forbidden
Flight instructors holding a Russian passport training students in the EU as a part of their sole proprietorship or own a company in EU may no longer continue and would have to seek alternative means of employment.
However, this doesn’t concern pilots who fly as a part of regular paid employment in a company without Russian owners. Thus, air transport pilots working for, let’s say, KLM may continue flying solely as a part of their professional duties.
- Any flights or maintenance of an aircraft owned by a Russian national or legal entity— forbidden
This concerns not just business jets, for which possession implies the owner is extra wealthy, but also any small aircraft, often owned on a shared basis by several enthusiasts, or even self-made aircraft.
Even if you’re not disadvantaged, i.e. you’re not in possession of a Russian passport, you still may not fly an aircraft that belongs to a Russian owner irrespective as to whether the aircraft and/or the owner is registered in Europe or not — it doesn’t matter.
Furthermore, any certified maintenance of such an aircraft is equally forbidden.
- Any flights or maintenance of an aircraft registered in Russia — forbidden
Everything applicable to an aircraft owned by a Russian owner is also applicable to any aircraft registered in Russia. This affects not only the aircrafts of Russian airlines, but also, for example, old soviet military jets owned by European aviation enthusiasts – In fact many such aircrafts were registered in Russia, due to EU aviation laws often making it impossible to register such aircrafts in EU. All such aircrafts are now grounded – regardless as to whether their owners are Russian citizens, or not.
This particular consequence is as a direct result to the flight ban that had been implemented in relation to the initial idea of making flights and maintenance of passenger aircrafts owned by Russian airlines and private jets of Russian oligarchs impossible in EU. However, the measure, unfortunately makes no distinction between a small two-seater airplane and a luxurious business jet.
- Not just flying, but any official support of Russians flying — forbidden too
As if prohibiting flying itself was not enough, EASA takes their restrictive action even further by applying an overall prohibition of any support of Russians flying, in any way, other than as a part of employment in a European company. This includes (but is not limited to): training, skill tests, and theoretical examinations; issuance, extension, and giving out of licenses; medical examination and issuance of medical certificates.
This means that as all manner of competency documents begin to expire, renewing/revalidating them will be impossible, due to said restrictions. Revalidating them abroad is, incidently also, not an option (see below). Since the period of expiration typically occurs within a time range of 6 months to 2 years, we can expect, even if the ban were to be lifted sometime in the near future, a significant backlog of the renewal of lapsed documents creating both a difficult and costly process.
- Everything above applies equally to all aircraft, not just airplanes: this includes drones too
The ban refers to the term “aircraft”, which, according to ICAO documents, includes many other flying devices, such as helicopters, gliders, hot air balloons, airships, and even drones (Annex 7, Cir 328 AN/190). Yes, you heard it right: no drones too. It would seem that the only thing missing from this list are, currently, paper planes.
As stated previously, all of these things are, at present, forbidden for Russian nationals in Europe yet, obviously, it’s pretty hard to imagine how any legal enforcement against C0 drones (lighter than 250 gr.) could be implemented, without it looking terribly absurd.
- Everything above applies equally to all flights/flight support not just within the territory of the EU, but within the whole EASA jurisdiction, including overseas
This way Russians can’t fly, incl. for either training or for license training/license revalidation purposes nor any EASA aircraft / under EASA license / with EASA instructors, or examiners, anywhere in the world, not just in the EU.
Having European permanent residence or dual citizenship (even if European passports are concerned) makes for no exemption and no exception for Russians. Neither the country of issuance of a flight crew license nor the country of registration of an aircraft are of any relevance. The only thing which matters to the EU lawmakers is the possession of a Russian passport.
Effectively a Russian passport is, in essence, a kind of a black mark in the world of aviation right now.
Why so and what’s wrong with It?
- Inconsistent with the intent of the sanctions
According to European Council, the objectives of the restrictive measures against Russia are: weaken Russia’s economic base, deprive it of critical technologies and markets and significantly curtail its ability to wage war.
The wide flight ban for private pilots and student pilots with Russian passports living in EU is clearly not consistent with these objectives.
Regardless of the hundreds of requests sent to all possible governmental institutions, incl. the authors of the Regulation (DG MOVE of the European Commission), after many months nobody bothered to explain how exactly banning private persons from being pilots aligns with the goals of the sanctions. In fact, no one bothered to explain why they are banned in the first place, again, despite multple requests. Even when asked directly, all representatives of the EU bodies avoid or simply ignore this question.
This is an intentional and evident breach of the Article 41 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.
- Too vague and too restrictive
According to the official FAQ (q.14), the ban is intentionally worded so widely, with the explicit purpose of avoiding circumventing the restrictions by any means of legal constructs (fake companies, nominal representatives, etc.). This raises the concern that in any case, related to the legal enforcement of this regulation, irrespective of circumstances or uncertainty, there already exists grounds to rule as restrictively and discriminatorily as possible against a Russian national, solely on the basis of their nationality.
- Fear of arbitrary enforcement
Due to the overall uncertainty, and vagueness around the ban, various aviation companies (e.g. ground handlers, airlines, airports, etc.) have been inclined to shield themselves from any unexpected situations, e.g. arbitrary on-spot enforcement of this measure by “playing it safe”, grounding even those who are not subject to the ban. Just in case.
- Weakening the concept of EU citizenship
The EU government has weakened the concept of EU citizenship by allowing the citizenships of other states to take precedence. This makes all EU citizens vulnerable.
Let’s imagine that Kremlin grants Russian citizenship to half the owners of European airlines. While this may seem absurd, we have seen many unreasonable things happen recently (like the flight ban, for example), so this is not completely impossible. Would European aviation come to a halt as required by the law in this scenario? Or would the EU publicly refuse to recognize these new grants?
It is important to note that the practice of treating nationals of a state solely as such while on the territory of that state, regardless of their other passports, is established worldwide for good reason.
- Evident discrimination
According to preliminary assessments by several independent lawyers, this regulation has evident signs of discrimination. This would render it highly illegal, if confirmed. This particularly applies to those Russians who live in Europe with residence permits or European passports. Essentially, it would be equivalent to prohibiting all Russian citizens from driving cars in Europe, just because a few “fat cats” happen to drive cars too.
- The EU is the only entity to apply the ban so widely
It might seem like the EU is teaming up with other “western” countries in implementing the flight ban, but this is not entirely true. Although NOTAMs published in other countries indeed seem similar to the European one, the effective applicability of respective flight bans in other countries is different. For instance, in the USA, Canada, and the UK, it is far more granular and well-worked. Their bans specifically apply to russian airlines, to the designated persons from “sanction lists” and, in some cases, to the residents of Russia. Neither of these countries blindly ban their own residents and nationals.
One could also notice that, in comparison with similar laws introduced in the other countries, the text of the prohibitive EU Regulation gives too much room for arbitrary interpretations.
- That is not how the Justice is supposed to work
The best intentions of the EU lawmakers are understandable, especially considering the scale of war crimes committed in Ukraine by the Russian government. Yet, it is important to remember that the law must not be arbitrary. More importantly, it must always be strictly compliant with the existing principles of justice. In no event, should any individuals be punished until proven guilty. After all, the EU has already set the bar pretty high and it is assumed to be driven by a mature and impartial legal system.
Overall, generalizing against a whole nationality is the right way to get things messed up. It’s just too big of a group, of too many different people. Case in point, in this particular situation, it means that the flight ban also applies to Russian asylum seekers and refugees (political activists, journalists, minorities, etc.), who cannot renounce their citizenship due to objective reasons. Equally it applies to those Russian nationals who have never been to Russia (those, who acquired citizenship through their parents), and ironically, the ban also applies to dual Ukrainian-Russian nationals and Ukrainian refugees who hold Russian passports too!
- Abolishing presumption of innocence
The blind applicability of this ban, to a large group of people based solely on their passports, presumes that this group is, by default, guilty as a whole, regardless of anything else. This is a very harsh presumption to make given that martial law is not formally imposed in the EU. At the same time, and equally grotesque, renouncing Russian nationality “cleans” a person from all the above charges right away. Not only does this not make any sense, it effectively abolishes the presumption of innocence for the all holders of Russian passports.
- Boosting sentiments
The blanket nature of this ban inevitably gives an informal signal to all underlying institutions and parties that such treatment against regular Russian nationals is not just possible, but preferable. One might only imagine the level of stigma and anticipate the far-reaching social consequences of it.
- Trust issues with the regulator
It goes without saying, the regulatory reaction to the situation is a slap in the face, for everyone considering flight training and an aviation career in Europe, not just holders of Russian passports. As if the aviation industry hadn’t been unstable enough, the EU and EASA make things significantly worse, by showing themselves to be unreliable, long-term regulatory partners prone to arbitrary political decisions, capable of “casually” grounding hundreds of pilots, overnight, for nothing, without providing any indication as to when the grounding might come to an end. Today it concerns all the Russian nationals, regardless of personal guilt, who will be damned tomorrow? Thus, trust in these regulatory bodies is substantially shattered.
- The special meaning of flying for pilots
Unlike many others, flying is a remarkable kind of activity, demanding an extremely high level of personal commitment from any practicing individual. As it commonly goes, far beyond, the boundaries of a decidedly more ordinary hobby or a job, it should be of little surprise that aviation plays an extremely important role in the lives of many pilots, even (and especially) for those who haven’t (yet) taken it up to the level of a formal career. People continuously invest a gargantuan amount of time and effort to enter and stay in aviation. Many of which with serious life plans associated with this sphere. Yet now, these people are banned from it, for no legitimate reason, and effectively asked to sit quietly and indefinitely. Unsurprisingly, it is being taken quite personally, at this point, by many of them.
- Fueling Russian propaganda
The blanket nature of this particular measure brings more support to the Russian regime, rather than harm. Without a shadow of a doubt, it has no effect in stopping the war. Many Russians who moved, years before, to Europe, did so for ideological reasons, because of European values, because they opposed Putin’s regime, and were hoping to be treated equally. Only that which is happening now, actually increases the risk that Russian propaganda will gladly be able to use this wide ban, in order to boost the anti-“western” and anti-Ukrainian sentiments inside Russia.
- Hypocritical position
It should, once again, be reiterated that these best intentions of the EU lawmakers are understandable, however when it comes to seriously considering the collective responsibility as a motive for regulatory action, the authorities tend to behave evasively and dismissively when contacted on the matter. Some representatives claimed to have no time, even, to listen to anything, whatsoever, on this topic “due to the war”, yet they perfectly managed to have all the time necessary to write the law, in its current form. Worth noting at this point, that a similar “lack of time”, didn’t prevent other, non-EU countries, from introducing the ban in a more well-thought out manner.
- One does not simply give away their nationality
The suggestion of, merely, renouncing Russian nationality in order to come out of the scope of the ban quickly, is as naive as it is unrealistic. Such oversimplified proposals often coming from individuals with questionable knowledge of immigration matters, that nonetheless may still be heard from at least some representatives of the EU authorities.
– First of all, it’s clearly a workaround, rather than a proper solution.
– Secondly, you might be surprised to know that many of the affected Russian pilots living in the EU would have happily renounced their nationality a long time ago if only they actually could have. However since, and not unsurprisingly, one cannot simply renounce their only nationality before acquiring another one, this would be impossible. Here is where the naturalization procedure in European countries comes into play: taking many years and having strict requirements.
We’re not claiming this to be wrong, here, but rather we are highlighting the fact that Russians living in EU cannot “just” give away their nationality.
– Finally, even in times of peace, renouncing Russian citizenship is an extremely difficult process that may take several years. The Russian government is also notorious for stretching this process out, often requiring the applicant to appear, in person, in Russia and rejecting the applications unlawfully.
Now when travel to Russia, in person, is not only costly and unreliable, but outright dangerous, especially for the many of us who openly addressed their position against the war, e.g. in social networks (as this is considered a crime in Russia, with substantial prison time attached to it), it is virtually impossible to gather that hefty bunch of documents required by Russian bureaucrats, to even initiate the renunciation procedure.
This effectively means that affected pilots are in a trap right now, since they wouldn’t be likely to be able rid themselves of their Russian passports, for the foreseeable future, even if they would want to.
What about other countries?
It might seem like the EU is teaming up with other “western” countries in implementing the flight ban, but this would be a false statement. Although NOTAMs published in other countries indeed seem similar to the European one, the effective applicability of respective flight bans in other countries is different.
Besides the EU, flight bans against Russian aircraft were introduced by the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. How do these bans actually work?
- USA: The ban was originally applied to everyone, similar to the situation in the EU. However, after a week, the ban was modified to only apply to certain individuals listed on the sanctions list. This means that everyone else is now able to study and fly without any restrictions.
- UK: The ban applies to individuals from the personal sanctions list and everyone who resides in Russia regardless of citizenship. Thus, you can fly without restrictions if you do not live in Russia. The ban was introduced by a NOTAM and a backing legislative act.
- Canada: Canada has implemented a flight ban that affects all Russian and Belarusian nationals, including pilots of all levels (student pilots, private pilots, and commercial pilots). However, the individuals who hold a passport of any country other than Russia or Belarus are exempt from the ban, regardless of whether they have Russian or Belarusian citizenship.
As you can see, the European Union is the only entity that has implemented a harsh ban, even going so far as to potentially put its own citizens at risk of harm by foreign authorities in order to do so.
What we propose to do?
- Sanctions in other areas (e.g. banks) do not affect Russian citizens who have either dual Russia/EU citizenship or legal residence in EU, providing they are not on “personal sanctions” lists. The EU lawmakers could follow this example and exclude general aviation pilots / student pilots from the sanctions providing they have legal residence in EU, whilst continuing to ban Russian airlines and private jets owned/chartered by residents of Russia from the EU airspace.
- Another good example of reasonable sanctions is targeting of russian ships: the measure clearly differentiates cargo ships under russian flag and luxury yachts of russian oligarchs from small boats owned by private persons. The key factors here, are the displacement and the length of the ship – a similar measure could be applied to aircrafts (so-called “maximum takeoff weight”).
- The examples mentioned above could be combined to clearly differentiate general aviation pilots who have residence in EU and fly small/ultralight aircrafts, from the Russian airlines, private jets of Russian oligarchs and other persons against whom the sanctions were initially taken.
Are you affected?
At this point, there remains little hope, that these measures will be adjusted any time soon as has happened in the USA, Canada, and the UK. After all, it is worth taking into account that:
- The European pilot community is far less numerous than, let’s say, the American one, setting aside the even tinier subset of aviators holding a Russian passport. As such, it naturally makes them an easier target for legal abuse and disregard.
- Certain statements from the official FAQ (q.2, 14), some clear mentions of private pilots in addition to numerous oral and written responses from regulatory bodies, make it evident that the adverse effects, as experienced as a direct result of this ban on light aviation, are not mere administrative oversights, but rather a well-informed, principled position of the authorities, who in turn have demonstrated an exceptional reluctance to either cooperate or to listen regarding the subject in any form, even failing to inform affected pilots of their rights.
These factors don’t give much reason to anticipate the best.
If you are a present or prospective European/Russian GA, commercial, or drone pilot who suffered the effects of this ban, please feel free to contact us. There is a growing initiative to take action against the blanket nature of this measure.
General contact for any other questions: firstname.lastname@example.org
Any help, even just in terms of people numbers might very well prove to helpful. It would be appreciated if you would share this article with other aviators who may have also suffered from these measures. We are aware of instances where people, having faced this situation, felt completely alone and abandoned. You may also wish to address the relevant authorities on your own. The first legal actions have already been initiated.
IMPORTANT. Despite the clearly discriminatory nature of this measure, we nevertheless ask all affected pilots to stay calm, and not become embroiled in pointless emotional discussions. Please DO NOT report it to Russian authorities, especially consular anti-discrimination hotlines or Russian mass media! Not only will they not be able to help you with this situation in any way, they will more likely use it to empower Russian propaganda even further. We don’t want to assist them.