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  • This is East Asiacomprised of China, Japan, Korea, and Taiwanand this is Europe.

  • 2.4 billion people live in these two areas—a third of the world's population.

  • More impressively, each of these two regions have a GDP of about $20 trillion.

  • Combined, just these countries account for half of the world's economic activity.

  • They are two of the world's most dense, most developed, and m ost economically interlinked

  • regions and are home to the world's largest and most influential cities yet laying between

  • them is just one countryRussia.

  • This more of less means that one country controls whether Europe can get to Asia and vice versa

  • and for a while, they couldn't.

  • During the cold war, almost universally, non-soviet airlines were not allowed to fly over the

  • Soviet Union.

  • This proved a huge barrier to travel.

  • In the 1950's, flying on BOAC, which later became British Airways, the fastest route

  • from London to Tokyo involved leaving London at 10am on Friday and stopping in Rome, Beirut,

  • Bahrain, Karachi, Calcutta, Yangon, Bangkok, and Manila before finally arriving in Tokyo

  • at 6am on a Sunday.

  • All in all, that was 36 hours and 10,000 miles of travel to get between two cities 6,000

  • miles apart and that was also their fastest service on the Comet jet plane.

  • Their slower and cheaper propeller plane service would leave London on a Sunday and not arrive

  • in Tokyo until Thursday after 88 hours of travel.

  • It was just hugely inefficient but there was a better wayover the Arctic.

  • SAS was the first to develop routes overflying the Arctic but other airlines soon followed.

  • These routes were first used to get to the American west coast faster.

  • This involved developing new navigation systems to overcome the issue of traditional magnetic

  • compasses not working properly in the high north.

  • In the 1950's no commercial airplane had the range to fly to the American west coast

  • non-stop but with SAS's new polar route they would take a relatively quick route from

  • Copenhagen stopping in Kangerlussuaq, Greenland and Winnipeg, Canada before arriving in Los

  • Angeles.

  • This cut what was previously a 36 hour trip down to 22.

  • With SAS having proven that commercial flights over the Arctic were both safe and commercially

  • viable, other airlines quickly followed not only setting up routes to the American west

  • coast but also to the far east.

  • The most direct route from London to Tokyo flies over Siberia, but since that airspace

  • was closed airlines chose another waythe other way around the world.

  • In 1960, only 40,000 people lived in Anchorage, Alaska and Alaska had just became a state

  • the year before, but its airport emerged as a crucial stopping point between Europe and

  • Asia.

  • BOAC's thrice weekly polar route from London to Tokyo would leave Heathrow at 1:45 pm,

  • arrive in Anchorage nine and a half hours later, stop for an hour to refuel, and then

  • fly the remaining seven hours to Tokyo.

  • All in all, it was timetabled to take only seventeen and a half hourshalf of what

  • the trip took before.

  • It was as drastic a reduction in travel time as when Concorde cut New York to London flights

  • from six hours to three.

  • BOAC wasn't the only one.

  • All the major European carriers set up routes to the far east via Anchorage in the 1960s

  • and 1970s.

  • While Anchorage sees only a few dozen daily commercial flights mostly to the continental

  • US today, in the 1970s it was served by Air France, SAS, KLM, Iberia, Lufthansa, Japan

  • Airlines, Korean Air, and more.

  • This tiny town in Alaska quickly became one of the most connected and cosmopolitan areas

  • of the world with passengers and flight crews from all around the world stopping over all

  • because of where it was.

  • As aircraft became more advanced with longer range, there were a few airlines that managed

  • to avoid stopping in Anchorage on their way from Europe to East Asia.

  • Finnair, for example, starting flying from Helsinki to Tokyo non-stop in 1983 by flying

  • in international airspace north of Russia over the North Pole.

  • This made what is today a nine hour flight thirteen hours but it was still faster than

  • stopping in Anchorage.

  • Overwhelmingly, though, airlines continued to fly through Anchorage.

  • Eventually, though, the Soviet Union did of course fall in 1991 and with that Russia started

  • to grant overflight rights to European and East Asian airlines.

  • They first had to modernize and anglicize their air traffic control system.

  • All international pilots and air traffic controllers worldwide speak English but before, since

  • there were few international flights over Russia, the Russian air traffic controllers

  • didn't speak english.

  • Once the changes were made, airlines quickly switched to flying non-stop from Europe to

  • Asia over Siberia.

  • That left Anchorage largely deserted.

  • The airport built a large and modern international terminal in 1982 to handle all the traffic

  • passing through the airport but then, less than ten years later, all those airlines that

  • kept the airport busy left in droves.

  • Today, that international terminal, built to handle hundreds of flights per month, only

  • sees a flight every few days.

  • Russia, meanwhile, is prospering thanks to the opening up of its airspace.

  • Flying to Asia over Siberia saves airlines huge amounts of time and money so Russia therefore

  • charges airlines huge amounts of money to do so.

  • Exact numbers vary by airline and are kept secret, but for each roundtrip flight between

  • Europe and Asia, Siberian overflight fees are believed to account for up to $100 of

  • a single passenger's ticket price.

  • Russia has an enormous amount of power by controlling this airspace and they use it

  • to their advantage.

  • 133 countries have signed the International Civil Aviation Organization's Transit Agreement

  • which essentially allows any airline from any country to fly through the signatory's

  • airspace but Russia, however, has not, so they can pick and choose which country's

  • airlines get to fly through their airspace.

  • The country can and has used its airspace as a geopolitical weaponin 2014 they threatened

  • to shut down their airspace to European Union airlines in response to sanctions, in 2017

  • they threatened to close the airspace to Dutch airlines in response to a reduction in landing

  • slots for a Russian airline at Schiphol airport, and in April 2018 they tacitly threatened

  • to close their airspace to US airlines in response to US military action in Syria.

  • But Russia not only decides which countries can fly in its airspace, it also decides which

  • specific airlines.

  • There is more or less a rule that only one airline per European country can overfly Russia.

  • There are certainly exceptionsboth British Airways and Virgin Atlantic are London based,

  • for example, but both overfly Siberia on their routes to Shanghai and Hong Kong, but Air

  • France is the only French airline with Siberian overflight rights, Lufthansa is the only German

  • airline with overflight rights, Iberia is the only Spanish airline with overflight rights,

  • and so on and so forth.

  • For the longest while, this wasn't a problem.

  • European countries aren't that big and few had more than one intercontinental airline

  • but nowadays, however, that's changing.

  • We're seeing more and more budget airlines competing with the large, established carriers

  • on long-haul routes but, with this system of overflight permissions, the legacy carriers

  • more or less have a monopoly on east Asian routes.

  • SAS, for example, operates out of Norway, Denmark, and Sweden and they have Siberian

  • overflight rights that take them to destinations like Tokyo, Beijing, and Shanghai.

  • SAS is therefore the only Scandinavian airline allowed to overfly Siberia.

  • But also in Scandinavia is Norwegian Air.

  • As one of the largest low-cost airlines in the world, Norwegian has pioneered long-haul

  • budget flying mainly focusing on flights from major European cities to the US.

  • The airline has said, though, that it wants to expand eastwards.

  • They already have flights from Copenhagen, Oslo, and Stockholm to Bangkok and from London

  • to Singapore, but these destinations are far enough south that they don't involve flying

  • over Siberia.

  • The airline has repeatedly applied for Siberian overflight rights and repeatedly been denied.

  • They argue that SAS does not operate any flight from Norway to Asia so they should be granted

  • permission as the only Norwegian airline but, since SAS is partially registered in Norway,

  • Russia isn't granting permission.

  • Norwegian does have a subsidiary legally registered in the UK but its unlikely that Russia would

  • grant overflight rights to this since British Airways and Virgin Atlantic also have overflight

  • rights.

  • Norwegian airlines also has a subsidiary based in Ireland which does not have an airline

  • with Siberian overflight rights but, SAS also has a subsidiary based in the country which

  • could mean that Russia will deny rights to this subsidiary too.

  • As of now, Russia has not granted overflight permission to any budget airline.

  • Others have triedIcelandic airlines Wow Air and Icelandair have attempted to negotiate

  • overflight rightsbut Russia views overflights as a way to make money and wants to charge

  • fees that would make it impossible for a low-cost airline.

  • For now, Wow Air has planned to start flights from Reykjavik to Delhi, India which, in a

  • direct routing would fly over Russia but can route around Russia by only adding 45 minutes

  • in extra flight time if an arrangement isn't made before flights start in December 2018.

  • Russia is a powerful politically-savvy country that knows that these overflight rights are

  • a huge negotiation tool.

  • Pulling the rights of a country's airline would be a huge financial blow and granting

  • rights is also a huge advantage.

  • Competition, though, is good for the consumer and this current system stifles it.

  • Until Russia starts granting overflight rights to budget airlines, nonstop flights to Asia

  • will stay expensive.

  • The fact that this shortcut over Siberia is now open at all, however, saves millions of

  • passengers yearly enormous amounts of time and money.

  • Watching this ten-minute video of our technological progress might make you think that we got

  • here in one giant leap, but that, of course, is not the case.

  • We had to develop new navigation systems to work around old-school compasses, build airports

  • to help planes refuel, and extend the range of aircraft.

  • The problem of advancing enough to be able to fly non-stop to the other side of the world

  • was huge but it was broken down and approached in small steps.

  • Brilliant works in a similar waybreaking a problem down, identifying the relevant concepts,

  • thinking clearly through each part, and building it back up to the conclusion.

  • In this manner, super complex topics like number theory or calculus can be easily understood

  • by anyone.

  • My favorite from Brilliant is their logic course, which starts simple, but then builds

  • up your skills so you can solve seemingly impossible problems.

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  • video.

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