Looming War: Major airlines divert flights from Ukraine airspace

Reduced testing and self-isolation requirements for people arriving in the UK will bring international travel ‘back to the good old days’, according to Transport Secretary Grant Shapps (Steve Parsons/PA)

Major airlines are diverting flights away from Ukranian airspace amid fears that the vast Russian forces gathering on its border could be ordered to invade imminently.

Live air traffic monitoring service Flightradar 24 shows virtually the only planes over the country on Monday morning were those flying to and from internal airports.

British Airways is one carrier that appears to be diverting its planes to the north or the south of Ukraine although the Civil Aviation Authority has not issued a formal Notice to Aviation – known as a NOTAM – to avoid the area.

A BA pilot said on Twitter on Sunday that freighter services from London to Bangkok were taking longer than usual because they have been diverted south because of “current geo-politics”. BA passenger flights from Asian destinations such as Bangkok or Islamabad showed them taking a northerly route over the Baltic states.

Dutch airline KLM already said it would halt flights to Ukraine and through the country’s airspace, while Germany’s Lufthansa said it was considering a suspension.

There were 98 flights scheduled from the UK to Ukraine last month and there are three airlines currently operating scheduled flights between the UK and Ukraine – Ryanair, Wizz Air and Ukraine International Airlines, according to aviation data company Cirium.

Kiev Boryspil International was the most popular destination, followed by Kviv International and then Kiev Zhuliany International. Ryanair operated the most flights between European airports and Ukraine, followed by Wizz Air.

Mark Zee, founder of flight operations advisory firm OPSGROUP, said “My guess would be that Ukraine will become unavailable pretty soon if what we’ve seen over the weekend crystallises into a couple of more carriers actually pulling the pin.”

“I don’t think it will be government advice that’s doing it so much as it will be insurance-based unavailability or carriers looking at other carriers. So if you have KLM, Lufthansa and British Airways, for example, deciding not to overfly Ukraine at all, we’re almost back into an MH17 scenario,” he said.

Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine in 2014, killing all 298 people on board, two-thirds of them Dutch citizens. Some airlines were already avoiding the airspace after earlier shoot-downs of military aircraft.

Zee said that the avoidance of Ukraine’s airspace would have the biggest routing impact on airlines from neighbouring countries but that it was not expected to add much to the cost of long-haul flights.

Ukrainian carrier SkyUp said it had to divert a flight from Portugal to Ukraine on Saturday after the plane’s owner barred it from entering Ukrainian airspace. News agency Interfax Ukraine said Ukrainian insurance companies had received a notification from reinsurers that airlines were not covered for war risks.

Ukraine Prime Minister Denys Shmygal on Sunday said the government had allocated 16.6 billion hryvnia ($591.98 million) to ensure flight safety for insurance and leasing companies to guarantee the continuation of flights through its airspace.

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