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When will passenger planes fly again in Ukraine?

There is no industry of civil aviation in Ukraine since February 24th. The sky has been “closed” and the Russian invaders continue to destroy the country’s infrastructure. In order to get the industry running, it is not enough to simply “open the sky”, as was the case after the quarantine due to the pandemic.

October 19, 2022 - Oleksandr Lytvyn - Articles and Commentary

Terminal D at the Boryspil International Airport in Kyiv. Photo: M101Studio / Shutterstock

The total direct damage to the Ukrainian infrastructure from the Russian aggressors amounts to 110.4 billion US dollars. Twelve airports were damaged (two billion dollars in losses), according to a Kyiv School of Economics (KSE) analysis. Forty-eight passenger and cargo companies are registered in Ukraine and 6,000 flight licenses were active, the State Aviation Service informs. In essence, a large sector of the Ukrainian economy is completely paralyzed.

Yet, neither the government nor the expert community has any doubts: the moment will come when Ukrainian civil aviation will have to be restored. One should not expect that the very next day after the end of the war, a Ukrainian will be able to buy a plane ticket to Poland and go pick up his wife. However, it is necessary to talk about the recovery prospects now.

Infrastructure and aircraft

There is no official information about the current state of runways and how many planes are blocked at Ukrainian airports. This data can be used by Russian aggressors to identify new targets for missile strikes. Those Ukrainian airlines that flew abroad at the beginning of the full-scale invasion were the luckiest. Their planes are currently not just out of danger, but they can operate. The largest airlines – Ukrainian International Airlines and SKyUp airlines – have leased their planes and crews to other European airlines.

For example, SKyUp representatives have said that their planes can be spotted in 52 airports around countries in the European Union. In addition, they continue to organise chartered flights for the Join UP! tourist company, which recently entered the Romanian market. The company says they are preparing and waiting for the moment to return to the Ukrainian market.

However, if UIA and SkyUP continue to operate, things are much worse for smaller Ukrainian airlines. Windrose, Bees Airline, Azur Air Ukraine do not fly at all. “Ukrainian airports and providers suffered losses in the amount of more than two billion hryvnias (around $55 million). These are direct costs related to the suspension of business activity. The airport does not turn out a profit, but the costs do not go anywhere. They include security and infrastructure maintenance. On the other hand, we understand that there are costs related to physical destruction,” says aviation expert and aviation sector manager Bohdan Dolintse.

Professionals and licenses

If a pilot does not fly for six months, he or she must undergo complete retraining. And these includes several months in expensive classes and simulators. This also applies to almost all personnel working with air transport. Licenses are issued subject to certain conditions. “Inactivity” poses a threat of lost qualification.

While some Ukrainian specialists have the opportunity to continue working abroad in the crews of several Ukrainian airlines, the majority of employees have been forced to look for other jobs or retrain. In some cases, they are mobilised and engaged in the country’s defence as a part of the Armed Forces. These are the specialists who cannot be found by placing a job ad and immediately hired.

The main obstacle, nevertheless, will be the state of the airports. Ukrainian airlines confirmed that they are ready to resume work as early as tomorrow. But without an audit, it is impossible to say where it will be possible to fly after the end of the war. The airport in Uzhhorod is still in relatively good condition (it was saved by its proximity to the border with Slovakia, a NATO country). But several tens of millions of hryvnias are needed for its restoration. Volodymyr Kreidenko, deputy chairman of Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada Committee on Transport and Infrastructure, says that as long as the war continues, airports will not be repaired. This is both dangerous and, perhaps, pointless under the conditions of the constant threat of a missile strike.0

“Generally, all airports can be divided into three categories”, Dolintse says. And only the results of the audit will determine which airport belongs to which group.

These include: 1) minimally affected airports (including the airport in Uzhhorod), which would take several weeks to several months to resume work; 2) those damaged by shelling. In case of minor destruction and stable financing, the restoration will take several months to half a year; and 3) destroyed airports (they include Donetsk and Kherson airports). Recovery will take several years.

Therefore, the main condition right now is the end of the war. Then the question immediately arises: Where to get the money? “Restoration will be possible only after victory in the war. In this case, we are talking about the availability of infrastructure: the airports will go through an audit. Depending on the runway condition, the timeframe for the restoration will then be determined,” says Bohdan Dolintse.

Volodymyr Kreidenko, in his comments estimated the recovery period to be from several weeks to several months. At the same time, the member of the parliamentary committee is sure that it is necessary to create a national air carrier in the country.

“An important step that will ensure the restoration of our aviation industry will be the creation of a government-owned airline, which was planned even before the full-scale war. A national air carrier in the conditions of the current common airspace with the EU,” said the People’s Deputy. The government, the ministry in charge of the sphere, and the relevant departments have already started developing models that will allow the state-owned airline “to be commercially successful”.

At the same time, any changes should not be expected before the end of the war and the opening of the Ukrainian sky. For the Ukrainian government and people’s deputies, this period is an opportunity to reach concrete agreements regarding financial assistance, as well as to work out the future model of the air transportation market in Ukraine. And this future may come soon.

This article was also published in Ukrainian here

Oleksandr Lytvyn is a Ukrainian journalist and head of the Economics department with the Ukrainian publication Obozrevatel. He was previously a senior columnist with Segodnya.ua.

This article is published in the framework of the “Bohdan Osadchuk Media Platform for Journalists from Ukraine” co-financed by the Polish-American Freedom Foundation as part of the RITA – “Region in Transition” Program implemented by the Education for Democracy Foundation and the Foundation for Polish-German Cooperation. 

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