Events in Ukraine at the moment are fast changing and evolving. Vladmir Putin’s amassing of over 130,000 troops around its border with Ukraine has sent shockwaves throughout Europe as well as the rest of the western world. As world leaders such as the US President Joe Biden and the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson as well as the French President Emmanuel Macron are trying to negotiate a climb down and thereby prevent an invasion. However, the situation is very uncertain. An attack could come at any time. The British government has advised all its citizens in Ukraine to leave the country. Many other countries including the US, Australia, Italy, Israel the Netherlands, and Japan have told their citizens to leave as well.

Airlines’ Response

So how have airlines responded to this crisis? It is very clear that air travel is still needed as many expatriates are either asked or choose to leave the country. In addition, the UK has said that it will not be able to fly out its nationals if the Russians invade. Armed Forces Minister James Heappey told BBC Breakfast that the Royal Air Force will not be able to bring people back from Ukraine. Therefore, they should leave now by commercial means or to drive out of Ukraine into a neighbouring country. This puts more pressure on airlines to keep operating now in order to help as many people as possible to leave in time before a possible Russian invasion. It does though provide an opportunity for airlines to gain a reputation in helping people at difficult times and potentially earn more revenue by charging more for flights.

The aviation industry has still been having problems with flights, however. It is still haunted by the memory of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 which was shot down while flying near eastern Ukraine’s conflict zone in July 2014 as it was heading from Amsterdam in the Netherlands to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. All 298 passengers and crew were killed. As a result airlines as well as insurance companies which cover them are being more cautious this time round. KLM Royal Dutch Airlines has become the first airline to suspend flights to Ukraine’s capital Kyiv. Other Airlines could follow KLM due to rising insurance costs.

 © Dzulkeffly Jaafar
Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was shot down near Eastern Ukraine © Dzulkeffly Jaafar / Travel Radar

Setbacks

On Sunday 13th February, according to the BBC, Ukraine’s budget airline SkyUp said its flight from Portugal to Kyiv was forced to land in Moldova after the plane’s Irish leasing company (the company that actually owns the planes) revoked permission for it to cross into Ukraine. According to the BBC, SkyUp said that European leasing companies were demanding that Ukranian airlines return their planes to European airspace within 48 Hours.

The BBC also understands that British Airways is not using Ukranian airspace. British Airways has not been operating flights to Ukraine for several years though. British Airways has also diverted other flights due to the current political situation. According to the BBC, a BA pilot has remarked that there is currently a long flight time for a freighter service from London to Bangkok (the capital of Thailand) because of current politics. Germany’s Lufthansa is also considering suspending flights.

It is clear that there are obstacles to airlines operating in Ukraine. However, Ukraine is keen to keep its airspace open. According to the BBC it is even ready to assume financial obligations for flight safety in the country’s airspace. However, there is an airline that is still operating as normal; Wizz Air. Customers have been advised that the airline is closely monitoring the situation and that they should check their mailboxes for further information about booked flights. In addition Ryanair is still operating flights to Ukraine.

Wizz Air Airbus A320-232
Wizz Air is operating as normal © Wizz Air

As one can see the Ukraine crisis is fast moving and difficult to predict. However, the aviation industry has to adapt on the basis of previous experience and unfortunately in the case of Ukraine this is not good. Fortunately, however airlines such as Wizz Air and Ryanair are still operating in Ukraine which provides an opportunity for people to escape.

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