Ukraine Air Traffic Hit by the Public Unrest

Cargo volumes and passenger figures have sharply declined at Kiev airport as a result of the ongoing political squabbling in the country. No improvement over the short term is in sight. The Yanukovich government however, has a totally different opinion on this matter.

Cargo tonnage and passenger numbers dwindled at Kiev International Airport / source: Kiev Boryspil Airport
Cargo tonnage and passenger numbers dwindled at Kiev International Airport / source: Kiev Boryspil Airport

The month-long political blockade in the Ukraine has severely impacted the aviation sector. This was now conceded by Yuri Miroshnikov, the President of national carrier Ukraine International Airlines (UIA). Passenger demand dwindled notably, so did air freight tonnage flown in or out Kiev airport, said the manager. He thus contradicts official data cited by the Ministry of Infrastructure that indicate an increase in passenger and cargo traffic in recent weeks. But this governmental view is almost exclusive and harshly contradicted by most experts, among them the UIA boss. 

source: Kiev Boryspil Airport
source: Kiev Boryspil Airport

Transits are only trickling
Mostly affected by the drop in demand are transports beyond Kiev to destinations in Russia, Eastern or Western Europe. Miroshnikov states that: “Shippers and forwarding agents do not want their cargo to be transited at any of the Ukrainian airports any longer, predominantly our airline’s main gateway Kiev Boryspil International, to avoid any risk of their shipments of getting stuck.” He further told the local media that despite the decline in passenger and cargo demand his carrier did not cancel any of its almost 700 weekly flights operated so far, but intends reducing their numbers by 24 per week as of March, should the political deadlock not be overcome. He also indicated that international leasing companies have a growing aversion to sign contracts with Ukrainian firms of entrusting them with any of their aircraft.

The financial figures as result of the traffic decline are sobering for Ukraine’s national carrier. Up until mid-October 2013, when the protests against the Moscow-friendly Yanukovich regime began, the airline expected to close the fiscal year with a net profit amounting to €14m. Meanwhile, local market experts forecast that profits have turned into losses, although final figures have not yet been submitted. 

UIA’s local competitor UTair Ukraine is not doing much better either. The carrier, belonging to the Russian UTair Group and based at Kiev Zhuliany Airport, cut its number of flights by almost one third. This step was made in response to the lasting civil unrest and political upheavals that continue impacting air transport negatively to this date, a UTair spokesperson confirmed.
Other observers assess the situation somewhat differently, like analyst Alexander Lanetsky. In his view the number of passengers carried by local airlines declined as a result of growing competition, because a handful new airlines have lately commenced flying to Kiev, among them Dubai’s carrier Emirates. This only redistributed the passenger and cargo cake but didn’t make it any smaller, Lanetsky recently told a local correspondent of Russian paper Kommersant.

Intentionally distorted statistics
A similar positive picture is drawn by Ukraine’s Ministry of Infrastructure that even speaks of a traffic increase by 33 percent in January on a year-to-year comparison. However, this paints a misleading picture, presumably distorting statistics for political motives. This, because exactly a year ago - in January of 2013 - Ukraine’s once largest carrier Aerosvit stopped operations, leading to a radical decline in passenger and cargo transport during that month. 

Heiner Siegmund