Thursday, 10 July 2014

Interview: Yuri Miroshnikov, Ukraine International Airlines President

UIA willing to resume Crimea flights under Russian control

Ukraine International Airlines (UIA) wants to return to Crimea even if the peninsula’s airspace remains under Russian control, president Yuri Miroshnikov tells Flightglobal.

“We would resume flights as soon as this is operationally possible and legally permitted,” he confirms. “Russian control, Ukrainian control … As soon as the situation is legalised.”

UIA and most international carriers stopped flying to Crimea after Russia moved to annex the territory in February.

Moscow seized control of Simferopol's airspace during the military intervention, but ICAO later said Ukraine remains the sole legal provider of air navigation services in the peninsula. Airlines have therefore been unable to resume flights without breaching international law.

“We are a commercial airline,” Miroshnikov stresses. “I would very much like it to be legalised in a way that restores the normal order of things [under Ukrainian control], but if it will be legalised somehow differently – and safety ensured – we also would fly.”

The president adds that the conflict has had a “significant” impact on UIA’s traffic, but quantifying the downturn is difficult because of Aerosvit’s failure last year.

“The base for comparison is wrong,” he says, noting that UIA filled the capacity void left by Aerosvit. “When you compare the first months of 2013 with the first months of 2014, you can even see growth.”

UIA has reacted to the crisis by cancelling routes such as Novosibirsk and Yekaterinburg, and reducing frequencies to Moscow. Several European destinations have also been scaled back, with capacity shifted to new points such as Chisinau, Stockholm, Dusseldorf, Tehran and Erbil.

“Now we are replacing Russia with the Middle Eastern destinations, and with some southern destinations,” Miroshnikov continues. “We are considering returning to our route which was suspended several years ago between Kiev and Kuwait.”

The flag carrier is also expanding in the long-haul sector, having launched flights to Bangkok in December and New York in May. Load factors on its US route are in the low-80s.

Beijing is the next long-haul target, Miroshnikov says, but slot restrictions in the Chinese capital make this “simply impossible” at present.