The European Commission and the Russian government have agreed to modernise the system of Siberian overflight payments. From 1 January 2014, any charges EU airlines have to pay for flying over Russian territory will be cost-related and transparent. They will not discriminate between airlines. The agreement is set out in an exchange of letters between Russian Economic Development Minister Ms Elvira Nabiullina, on the Russian side, and Vice-President Siim Kallas and EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht for the Commission. The agreement will enter into force on 1 January 2012 after the WTO Ministerial Conference has given its green light to Russia’s WTO accession, which is expected to happen on 16 December 2011.

Currently, EU air carriers are obliged to pay for flying over Siberia on flights to destinations in Asia. It is estimated that these payments cost around €320 million per year – most of it going directly to Aeroflot. The EU has long been concerned that these payments are in breach of both EU antitrust law and international law (Chicago Convention). Moreover, they drive up airline costs unfairly, making air tickets from Europe to destinations in Asia more expensive and distorting competition between airlines on these markets. They also create an additional burden on trade relations between the EU and Asia.

The basis for today's agreement was prepared in 2006, based on a set of "Agreed Principles", but will only now enter into force.

Commission Vice-President Siim Kallas highlights the importance of this break-through in EURussia aviation relations: "Siberian overflight royalties have for decades been the single most important obstacle for further developing EU-Russia aviation relations to the detriment of airlines and passengers. Today's agreement is therefore a very important milestone towards strengthening closer cooperation in many areas of aviation. Igor Levitin, the Russian Minister of Transport and I agreed on this during the recent EU-Russia Aviation Summit in St. Petersburg and we have worked very closely with the Polish Presidency to finalise the agreement. This agreement clearly reflects the positive spirit of St. Petersburg! We now look forward to its swift implementation."

Commissioner Karel De Gucht underlines the importance of this agreement for Russia's WTO-accession: "The clear commitment we received from Russia to make charges for flying over Siberia cost-related, transparent and non-discriminatory helped pave the way for the EU to support Russia's accession to the WTO. Both of these developments are very good news."

Next steps

Russia and EU Member States have until 1 July 2012 to modify their bilateral Air Services Agreements in order to fully implement the "Agreed Principles".

For more information on EU-Russia aviation relations:

EU–Russia aviation summit: 12-13 October, 2011
Infringements concerning bilateral aviation agreements with Russia

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