The main airports of the DniproAvia and Motor Sich airlines have been shut down

The main airports of the DniproAvia and Motor Sich airlines have been shut down
Photo: Ivan Chernichkin

The ban on flights to airports in Kharkiv, Dnipropetrovsk and Zaporizhzhya has been extended to the morning of December 16, Head of the State Aviation Service Denys Antonyuk told Capital. Initially, the SAS closed the airports for two days — Saturday and Sunday. The further prolongation of the ban may lead to the bankruptcy of airlines that are based in the closed airports.

Motive for the ban

Antonyuk refused to state the reasons for the ban, only specifying that it was imposed «for the sake of security». He also did not comment on the question «why flights from airports in Kyiv were not banned». Head of the National Security and Defense Council Andriy Lysenko said at a briefing that the council knows nothing about the ban. The absence of an official version resulted in many unexpected interpretations of the events. Last weekend blog community with a reference to different anonymous sources discussed the information that the airports are preparing to receive cargo planes from the U.S. transporting weapons.

The Ministry of Infrastructure categorically denied this version. One of its officials who requested anonymity told Capital: «In the event that weapons are delivered by military aircraft they would in no way interfere with passenger planes landing at the airports. If necessary the cargo on military transport planes can be unloaded at remote unobstructed terminals.» The official noted that cargo on military aircraft also can be unloaded at separate military airfields.

President of the Civil Aviation Association Ukrainian Airports Petro Lypovenko says the version of the closing of airports for the unloading of cargo from military aircraft of NATO must be ruled out. He sticks to the opinion that the ban was imposed due to the threat of acts of terrorism during the take-off or landing of planes. Lypovenko explains that at low altitudes terrorists can shoot down the planes. «Nobody wants to take such a risk,» he noted.

Not the first time

This is not the first time this year that the airports have been shut down. In March, during Russia’s annexation of Crimea, the SAS closed the airport in Simferopol to flights. Today, only Russian airlines are flying into this airport and only on routes to Russia. A number of attempts to organize regular flights between Crimea and other countries turned into a fiasco. In particular, flights to Turkey and Armenia could not be arranged.

The second wave of closure of airports hit at the end of spring. During the active phase of the anti-terrorist operations (ATO), flights were cancelled to the airports in Donetsk and Luhansk. After that flights from the airport in Kharkiv to Moscow were banned.

As such, this spring Ukraine lost two of eight of the largest airports — Simferopol and Donetsk. Last year, these airports held third and fourth places with a passenger flow of 1.2 mn and 1.1 mn respectively. Luhansk is not in the group of the largest airports in Ukraine. The passenger flow through this airport last year was only 40,000-50,000.

Loss of bases

The ban of flights affected airlines the main hubs of which were the closed airports, says General Director of the Art-Tour ticket sales agency Artur Lamtyuhyn. They are Motor Sich of Zaporizhzhya, DniproAvia in Dnipropetrovsk and Kharkiv Airlines of Kharkiv. However, the latter has the possibility of minimizing its losses as its only aircraft in Ukraine performs charter flights from Kharkiv and from the nation’s capital. Motor Sich and DniproAvia depend more on their base airports. According to data of the aviation website, in December 68 regular daily flights from the airport in Dnipropetrovsk were planned with the majority of them (42) by DniproAvia. 10 regular flights of airplanes of Motor Sich per week were planned from Zaporizhzhya. The leader of the Ukrainian aviation market Ukraine International Airline will equally suffer as it performs charter flights from Zaporizhzhya and Kharkiv and regular flights from Kharkiv and Dnipropetrovsk that feed the Boryspil hub, expert of the aviation market Yevhen Khainatskiy says.

Of course, the UIA can benefit from the ban. «The majority of transit passengers will get to Kyiv on aboveground transport, meaning there will be no need to conduct unprofitable domestic flights,» says Assistant General Director of Commerce of the online service Viktor Voitsekhovskiy.

Khainatskiy added that Utair-Ukraine and Kharkiv Airlines, which conduct charter flights from those cities to Egypt, are bound to face problems. These airlines cannot cancel charter flights as they have been pre-paid by tour operators, which is why they redirect flights to airports in Kyiv. «In order to transport the tourists to the aircraft transfers are being organized the expenses for which as a rule are shared equally between tour operators and airlines,» Khainatskiy explains.

From the vantage point of airlines, three-day blockage of flights does not have a significant impact on the profitability of airlines, says Lamtyuhyn. However, if the skies will be closed for flights for an undetermined length of time, this situation could lead to serious losses and even bankruptcy of air transporters.

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