Will Ukraine close its airspace to commercial flights?


As the diplomatic situation between Ukraine and Russia rapidly continues to deteriorate, civil aviation operations have been increasingly affected.

Local airlines are having to forego some of their aircraft, as insurers refuse to cover flights through Ukraine. Yet for now, the airspace remains open to commercial operations. 

These new tensions revive the memory of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, whose downing above eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014, caused the death of 283 people. Since that tragic event, many airlines have avoided the area. 

With the conflict now seemingly rekindled, several airlines have decided to suspend flights to Kyiv and alter routes to avoid Ukrainian airspace. 

On February 12, 2022, the Dutch flag carrier KLM was the first to announce it would suspend all flights to Boryspil International Airport (KBP) in Kyiv, Ukraine until further notice. “This decision follows the adjusted travel advice to code red and an extensive safety analysis,” the air carrier explained.  

Germany’s flag carrier Lufthansa (LHAB) (LHA) is also reportedly considering a suspension of its flights to Kyiv. British Airways, which does not fly directly to Ukraine, seems to have modified its Asian routes to avoid the Ukrainian airspace, either from the north or the south. 

Later the same day, Ukrainian airline SkyUP flight PQ902 from Madeira, Portugal, to Kyiv, had to divert to Chisinau, Moldova. Deucalion Aviation, the Irish-based lessor that was a spin-off from DVB Bank in 2021, barred their aircraft from entering Ukraine. “Despite all the efforts of the airline and the willingness of government agencies of Ukraine to contact the lessor, the owner of the aircraft flatly refused just at a time when the aircraft was already flying to Kyiv,” the airline said in a statement.  

Insurance companies informed Ukrainian air carriers that they would stop insuring aircraft for flights in Ukrainian airspace from February 14, 2022. Consequently, leased aircraft will be ferried out of Ukraine. For example, Ukraine International Airlines was forced to send five Boeing 737-800 aircraft to Spain for storage. Two additional aircraft were also sent into early maintenance in Serbia. 

No closed airspace for now 

The Ukrainian authorities said they continue to keep the country’s airspace open. “Closing the airspace is a sovereign right of Ukraine and no decision has been taken in this direction,” Mustafa Nayyem, the Ukrainian Deputy Minister of Infrastructure, stated on his Facebook page. 

Boryspil International Airport management reported that operations would continue normally, “ensuring security and a high level of aviation security in full”. 

To try and mitigate the damage, the Ukrainian government decided to allocate funds from the reserve fund of the state budget to cover the insurance of flights in the country’s airspace. 

“For this purpose, in agreement with the Budget Committee of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, the amount of the reserve fund of the State Budget was increased by UAH 16.6 billion ($581 million). The allocated funds cover insurance cases for at least 23 aircraft,” the Ministry of Infrastructure of Ukraine explained. The priority of those aircraft will be to repatriate Ukrainian citizens from abroad. 

The Ministry stated that, as of February 13, 2022, 29 international airlines continued to fly from 34 countries.  

These include the low-cost carrier Wizz Air, whose schedule remains unchanged. “Wizz Air continues to closely monitor the situation in Ukraine,” the air carrier told Reuters. Similarly, Ryanair continues to carry out several daily flights to both Kyiv and Odessa. 

Air France not only continues to operate two weekly flights between France and Ukraine, but flightradar24 data shows that it even increased its capacity by using Airbus A321 instead of A319 aircraft. The French flag carrier could be expecting greater demand, given the schedule disruptions of its competitors. 

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