KYIV -- Overcoming the trauma of the total ban on flights between Russia and Ukraine, carriers here staged a startling recovery last year. They reoriented flights west to the EU, expanded market share at the expense of Russian carriers, and, for the first time in two years, recorded an increase in flights.
These are the conclusions from 2016 flight statistics compiled by the nation’s air traffic controllers entity, the Ukrainian State Air Traffic Services Enterprise.
After Russian carriers were banned from airports here, Ukrainian companies nearly doubled their market share. They now account for nearly half of all flights in and out of Ukraine.
Until the Oct., 2015 ban on flights to Russia, four Russian airlines took about one quarter of Ukraine’s airline traffic. Until then, Moscow was the top destination for flights from Kyiv.
From 2013 to 2015, flights handled at Ukraine’s airports dropped by one third. Last year, that trend reversed. Flights rose 9 percent over 2015 levels.
It is no surprise to air travelers here that Ukraine International Airlines (UIA) remained the gorilla in the terminal, recording 49,138 flights last year, or 38 percent of the total market. Despite its size, UIA managed to grow by 19.8 percent last year.
UIA was more than double the second busiest airline, Turkish Airlines. To cash in on forecasts of more Ukrainian travel in 2017, Turkish Airlines recently announced expansion of flights to Istanbul from Lviv, Kharkiv and Kherson.
Last year, Ukraine’s new, western orientation became clear: the three fastest growing airlines here were all from Central European neighbors.
LOT Polish Airlines grew the fastest among carriers serving Ukraine last year, with a 40.7% increase in traffic. With now daily or near daily service to Warsaw from Kharkiv, Odesa, Lviv and Kyiv Borispyl, LOT starts on Feb. 26 a new, six days-a-week route to Warsaw from Kyiv Zhuliany.
Hungary’s Wizz Air was the second fastest growing airline in Ukraine, recording a 37.1% increase in traffic. Wizz Air boosted its presence in the Ukrainian market last year with new routes to Gdansk and Katowice. This year, the airline is increasing its seats out of Ukraine by 65 percent, restoring flights from Lviv, and starting flights from Kyiv Zhuliany to four new EU cities.
Belarus’ Belavia increased its flights by 21.6 percent, largely by offering Minsk as a transit hub for flights to Moscow and St. Petersburg. To further increase tourism, Belarus starts Feb. 12 a new policy that allows 5-day, visa-free stays for citizens of 80 countries who fly into Minsk National Airport.
Not to be left out of the Eastern Europe air boom, a fourth neighbor of Ukraine, Moldova, saw Air Moldova’s flight to Kyiv Boryspil grow by 12.2 percent last year.
In addition to Europe, sunny travel destinations returned as a major draw for Ukrainians last year. Azur Air Ukraine, owned by tour operator Anex Tours, flies tourism charters to Spain, Turkey, Egypt, and Bulgaria. Last year, its traffic grew by 16.8 percent.
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Photo: LOT Polish Airlines grew the fastest in Ukraine last year, by 40.7 percent, albeit from a modest base (supplied)Posted Feb. 1, 2017