Eastern European Air Traffic Severely Affected By War In Ukraine

Credit: Wojciech Strozyk / Alamy Stock Photo

FRANKFURT/ZURICH/MOSCOW—Air traffic in Eastern Europe has been severely impacted by the consequences of Russia’s Feb. 24 attack on Ukraine. 

Both Ukraine and neighboring Moldova have closed their airspace for civil flights. Russia, too, ordered civil flights to be stopped in the vicinity of its border with Ukraine.

There have been reports, including from Ukraine’s central military command, about heavy fighting around and at Kyiv’s Hostomel (GML) and Boryspil (KBP) airports. Boryspil serves commercial airlines while Hostomel is owned by aircraft manufacturer Antonov and is the home base of its subsidiary Antonov Airlines. The extent of damages at the airfield and Antonov’s facilities was not immediately clear. Boryspil said in a Facebook post that the airport had been evacuated and the runway had been blocked. Footage on social media shows explosions and fire.

Ukrainian officials said that a total of six airports in the country have so far been attacked, including Boryspil.

Ukraine International Airlines—barred from operating any flights—and Hungarian ULCC Wizz Air are the two most affected carriers. Wizz Air serves 100 routes from six Ukrainian airports, 50 of which are from Kyiv. Four of its aircraft were still in the country when Russia began its attack. A spokesperson told Bloomberg that the airline was trying to evacuate all of its Ukrainian staff and their immediate families as soon as possible.

Wizz Air’s stock dropped 13% as it is the most exposed of the European low-cost airlines and larger carriers in general. Lufthansa’s stock was down 7%, International Airlines Group’s 6% and Air France-KLM’s 3% in afternoon trading.

In spite of the Ukraine invasion, many European, Middle Eastern and Asian airlines continued to operate to Russia and overfly its territory. Among the European airlines continuing to operate to Russia were Lufthansa, British Airways, Air France and Wizz Air. However, Aegean Airlines flight 880 from Athens to Moscow returned to Athens before it had entered Russian airspace and landed back at home base at 11.45 a.m., local time.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) wrote in a Conflict Zone Information Bulletin (CZIB) on Ukraine that “airspace and critical infrastructure, including airports, are exposed to military activities which result in safety risks for civil aircraft. In particular, there is a risk of both intentional targeting and misidentification of civil aircraft.” EASA added that “the presence and possible use of a wide range of ground and airborne warfare systems poses a HIGH risk for civil flights operating at all altitudes and flight levels.”

In the CZIB, EASA warned that in addition to not operating in the affected airspace, operators should also exercise caution when operating in the whole FIR Moscow and the whole of FIR Rostov “due to heightened military activity which may include launches of mid-range missiles penetrating into controlled airspace.” A buffer zone along the border with Ukraine inside FIR Moscow extends to 200 nm.

IATA Director General Willie Walsh stated that his organization continues to help “facilitate the relevant and timely sharing of information with airlines from government and non-government sources to support airlines as they plan their operations around airspace closures in Ukraine and parts of Russia.”

Russian airlines are affected, too. The country’s Federal Air Transport Agency suspended operations from 11 civil airports until March 2. The list included Bryansk, Belgorod, Kursk, Rostov-on-Don and Voronezh, all near the border with Ukraine; Anapa, Elista, Gelendzhik, Krasnodar and Stavropol in the south of European Russia; and Simferopol in Crimea.

S7, Russia’s second largest airline, canceled flights from Moscow to Sochi and Makhachkala and all flights to several other cities in the south of the country—Astrakhan, Mineralnye Vody, Vladikavkaz and Volgograd—for Feb 24. Another large local carrier, Utair, canceled flights to Lipetsk.

The agency imposed no restrictions on Russian carriers from serving international destinations. Since Russia’s aerospace near the Ukrainian border has been closed, the country’s authorities have designated new air corridors for international flights.

According to Russia’s Federal Agency for Tourism, air corridors for flights to popular leisure destinations in Egypt, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates have been moved to the east over the Caspian Sea. Another new corridor suggests flying to Turkey and Bulgaria by going around the battle zone from the west through the north of Belarus and then heading south through Slovakia. The new routes can add from 45 min. to 1.5 hr. to flight times, the agency warned.

The UK, however, has issued a ban on Russian airlines operating in its airspace. The UK Department for Transport on Feb. 24 released a statement saying, “no aircraft on a scheduled service which is owned, chartered or operated by a person connected with Russia, or is registered in Russia, shall fly in [UK] airspace, including in the airspace above the [UK’s] territorial sea.” Aeroflot will be the Russian carrier most clearly affected by the ban.

Jens Flottau

Based in Frankfurt, Germany, Jens is executive editor and leads Aviation Week Network’s global team of journalists covering commercial aviation.

Kurt Hofmann

Kurt Hofmann has been writing on the airline industry for 25 years. He appears frequently on Austrian, Swiss and German television and broadcasting…

Maxim Pyadushkin

Maxim holds a key position at AW&ST’s Russian partner – Air Transport Observer magazine (www.ato.ru). In the past he was in charge of several ATO’s sister aerospace publications and earlier worked for Moscow-based CAST defense think-tank.