Daily Memo: How Eurocontrol Is Planning To One Day Reopen Ukraine’s Airspace

Kherson International Airport

Much of Ukraine's ground infrastructure, such as at Kherson International Airport, is extensively damaged.

Credit: Ihor Tkachov/AFP/Getty Images

Reopening Ukraine’s airspace to commercial traffic sounds far-fetched. Nevertheless, in line with Europe’s will to support Ukraine during the war and after, Eurocontrol has devised such a plan.

Most of the European air traffic management organization’s plan can only be implemented at the point when the conflict ceases. Some actions have begun, notably to maintain Ukrainian air traffic controllers’ skills.

The idea is to both support Ukraine as a Eurocontrol member state and to relieve neighboring member states, where traffic management has intensified as aircraft have been rerouted around the conflict zone. Eurocontrol is planning to reinstate direct routings that used to overfly Ukraine.

Controllers typically maintain their certification through a combination of actual experience and refresher training, as well as having a current medical certificate, a Eurocontrol spokesperson explains. In the case of Ukrainian controllers, actual current experience is impossible due to the airspace closure. Therefore, Eurocontrol’s Maastricht Upper Area Control Centre (MUAC) in Belgium and Toulouse-based controller school ENAC are conducting training and simulation programs. MUAC is in charge of area control center staff, while ENAC takes care of airport approach and tower controllers.

“A pilot group of 20 controllers will be trained so that they can train others in Ukraine,” the spokesperson says. The objective is for 200 controllers to be ready when civil aviation can restart.

Eurocontrol member states have established a voluntary solidarity fund of €46.5 million ($50 million). In February, a first partial payment was made to air navigation service provider Ukrainian State Air Traffic Service Enterprise (UkSATSE). It is targeted at helping cover staff costs and ensure operational readiness.

In parallel, Eurocontrol and EASA are working with the State Aviation Administration of Ukraine (SAAU) to ensure they have inspectors to oversee the air navigation service recovery process.

Eurocontrol is also supporting Ukraine with cyber-security expertise to help safeguard its core aviation systems against attacks.

As for infrastructure, systems for communication, navigation and surveillance are described as extensively damaged. Eurocontrol is assessing the radar coverage situation. Work is underway to see how sharing radar data from neighboring countries might help, as well as the use of commercial ADS-B—a system where aircraft share their position.

A reopening scenario is being developed and will be updated under a continuous process. Drivers will include available airspace, airports and air traffic control. “It is already envisaged that there would be capacity reductions relative to the pre-war situation,” the spokesperson says. “A stepped recovery approach may be used.”

For Eurocontrol’s network, a reopening of Ukraine’s airspace would mean considerable simplification. Some routes have been shut down or, due to the long detours required, have become uneconomical to fly. Around Ukraine, airspace has become more congested owing to rerouted traffic.

Thierry Dubois

Thierry Dubois has specialized in aerospace journalism since 1997. An engineer in fluid dynamics from Toulouse-based Enseeiht, he covers the French commercial aviation, defense and space industries. His expertise extends to all things technology in Europe. Thierry is also the editor-in-chief of Aviation Week’s ShowNews.