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Fears Over Safety of US Citizens After San Francisco-Bound Plane Makes Unscheduled Landing in Remote Russian City

Fears Over Safety of US Citizens After San Francisco-Bound Plane Makes Unscheduled Landing in Remote Russian City

a large airplane flying over a city

An Air India flight from Delhi to San Francisco was forced to make an unscheduled landing in a remote Russian city after the Boeing 777 jet with 216 passengers and 16 crew members onboard developed a technical fault.

The aircraft landed safely earlier on Tuesday in Magadan, which is located in Russia’s Far East after a problem was detected with one of its engines. The city was founded in 1930 as a major transit center for political prisoners sent to work at a gold mine during the Stalin regime.

Air India flight AI-173 departed Delhi at around 4:23 am on Tuesday morning for what should have been a 14-hour flight to San Francisco. The airline has been routinely overflying Russian airspace for its U.S-bound flights despite Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

An Air India spokesperson said the passengers and crew had been accommodated in local hotels overnight and that Russia had granted permission for a replacement plane to land in Magadan so that they could continue their journey.

In response to fears that U.S. citizens could face retaliation at the hands of the Russians, the airline added that the local authorities were “extending all cooperation in our effort to ensure that passengers safely reach their destination at the earliest”.

India has remained on friendly terms with Russia despite the ongoing war in Ukraine, and, as such, Indian airlines do not face sanctions in the form of airspace restrictions like their U.S. rivals.

United Airlines was forced to pull the plug on its own San Francisco to Delhi route last year after the extra flight time and fuel burn from flying around Russian airspace made the route economically unviable.

On Monday, United chief executive Scott Kirby told journalists on the sidelines of the annual conference of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) that rival airlines should be barred from utilising Russian airspace on U.S.-bound flights.

Kirby insisted that his primary concern was one of safety, especially what might happen to a U.S. citizen if a plane had to make an unscheduled stopover in Russia.

Air India CEO Campbell Wilson dismissed criticism of his airline for overflying Russia, but the carrier will now have to work out how to get the American-made aircraft fixed and airworthy again.

Depending on what needs to be done to fix the plane, the aircraft could require spare parts that are already in short supply in Russia and which can’t be flown into the country due to Western sanctions.

Last week it was revealed that newly approved flights by Chinese airlines to the United States were avoiding Russian airspace, although flights more established flights continue to overfly Russia.

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