Pilots’ unions have raised concerns over safety risks involved in flying over Ukraine amid heightened geopolitical tensions in the region.
German pilots’ union Vereinigung Cockpit (VC) said it recommends avoiding the area by a wide margin due to the current, highly dynamic political situation.
European aviation safety authorities haven’t yet told airlines to avoid flying over Ukraine. However, some airlines are already avoiding the area.
“To avoid all doubt, authorities and aviation companies should always opt for the safest course of action,” VC said in a statement on February 16, 2022.
Russia said on February 15, 2022, that it was partly pulling back troops from the Ukraine border. On February 16, 2022, the defense ministry published a video showing tanks and military vehicles leaving Crimea.
For many pilots, the situation is reminiscent of when Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 was shot down in summer 2014 over eastern Ukraine.
Both the International Federation of Air Line Pilots’ Associations (IFALPA) and the European Cockpit Association (ECA) have previously called on states to take action. They highlight that there was a “false sense of security” in 2014, when many airlines continued to overfly the area.
“IFALPA and ECA are extremely concerned that the same false sense of security might arise again,” they said in a joint statement earlier on February 1, 2022, calling on states and operators to “carefully consider the lessons that should have been learned from MH17”.
The unions said states should close airspace or ban aircraft from flying over high-risk areas. States can sometimes be loath to close their airspace for fear of losing money earned from overflights.
In light of the tensions, Ukrainian carriers have had to move some aircraft to different countries at the request of lessors and due to insurance requirements.
Ukraine International Airlines said on February 15, 2022, it has sent a further two aircraft to Spain for safekeeping. Its fleet has been reduced to 13 aircraft as a result. However, it is still continuing to operate domestic and international flights.
“The airline managed to work out a compromise position in the process of negotiations with insurance companies and with the consent of lessors,” it said in a statement.