After the departure of the AeroSvit airline company from the European and Russian routes, its main competitor and its ally until recently, Ukraine International Airlines, is starting to fill the vacant niche. Ukraine International Airlines’ Executive Vice President for Commerce Serhii Fomenko talks to the Center for Transport Strategies about the routes on which the airline company will operate and the aircraft it will operate on these routes.
What new routes will UIA serve following the departure of AeroSvit from mid-range routes?
Firstly, it is the Russian route. For example, St. Petersburg. We will operate flights to Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport 3-4 times per day. At present, we operate three flights to the Domodedovo airport per day, we recognize the attractiveness of this route, and we will possibly increase the flights to four.
Flights to St. Petersburg will be operated daily and twice a day on some days in order to meet the demand from tourists, businesspersons, and transit passengers. As you know, there are two waves of connections at the Boryspil airport: one from 08:00 to 10:00 and the second from 18:00 to 20:00. Airplanes arrive from the east at this time, and passengers transfer to the west or from the north to the south and vice versa.
In addition, flights to Yekaterinburg, Novosibirsk, Sochi, and Rostov-on-Don have already been entered into the booking and sales system. The traditional flights to Samara will be performed. We hope that Kyiv will become an alternative to the Moscow aviation hub thanks to these routes, giving passengers the opportunity to fly between Western and Central Europe and Russia cities through Boryspil.
What other new routes is the company entering?
We will launch flights to Baku and Yerevan in mid-February (on February 12 and 13). Initially, they will be operated three times a week. At the same time, we are negotiating with colleagues from Azerbaijan (the Azal airline), and we plan to increase the number of flights to five per week in each direction as seasonal passenger traffic increases.
We hope that Kyiv will become an alternative to the Moscow aviation hub
Now, we have also begun operating Kyiv-Tbilisi flights twice per day – during the day and at nights. Night flights are operated for the convenience of business and transit travelers traveling from Georgia to Western Europe via Kyiv. Daytime flights are intended for tourists and passengers traveling from regions of Ukraine to Georgia and in the opposite direction. We will also perform regular flights – and we have already begun selling tickets – to the cities of Batumi, Larnaca, and Athens. In addition, we see that a vacuum has emerged on routes to Eastern Europe, so we will operate on the Kyiv-Prague and Kyiv-Warsaw routes. We are also considering the possibility of launching flights to other countries in this region.
The media and rival carriers are now saying that Ukraine International Airlines is taking over AeroSvit’s former routes without competition. Does the company have the right to operate on these routes?
If we bring out all the documents, i.e. applications for routes and the minutes of the relevant meetings of the State Aviation Service’s licensing commission, we will find quite a number of routes that were allocated to us well before the end of 2012. However, since Ukraine International Airlines is a company that knows how to count money, it did not operate on these routes on its own but operated on them under partnership agreements with other carriers. For example, we have agreements with Air France-KLM and Austrian Airlines that stipulate that we are the operator of flights to Donetsk, Lviv, and Kharkiv. On their part, these airline companies offered us their capacities in Europe. It was the same with AeroSvit until recently. When we saw that their schedules and capabilities were in line with our commercial interests, the need to operate our own flights simultaneously disappeared automatically. Especially considering the fact that transit flights need to be operated at certain times of the day. Therefore, we acted as a marketing partner on several routes.
However, we were able to make full use of those allocations that were made in 2010, 2011, and 2012 because AeroSvit suddenly stopped operating on the routes. We were also able to begin operations on those routes on which there were restrictions on the number of carriers or frequency of flights, for example in the east. In addition, we urgently decided to launch flights to Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan. We already operated on these routes with other airline companies as interline partners and therefore we understand the passenger traffic.
Will you continue to fly to Kazakhstan during the summer season?
There are rules and regulations for obtaining permits. A special form is submitted, and it has to be approved by the aviation authorities of Kazakhstan. We now have reasonable confidence that we can fly seven times a week between Kyiv and Almaty and seven times between Kyiv and Astana. We were visited recently by representatives of Air Astana, which has expressed the desire to operate flights between Kyiv and Almaty and between Kyiv and Astana. They are starting very carefully - with three flights a week, which may be increased to four. It is the same with Astana. For now, as far as we know, the position of the Kazakh side is that the frequency of flights between the two countries will not be more than 14. We expect the commencement of flights by Kazakh airline companies to lead to development of relations, increase of passenger traffic, and the opening of new destinations in this country.
Two Boeing 737-800 from AeroSvit have already joined the fleet of Ukraine International Airlines. Does the company plan to use other aircraft previously operated by AeroSvit?
We work with both aircraft manufacturers and lessors. Based on its tail number, one can track when an airplane was manufactured, who operated it, and when the lease on it expires. Therefore, when there is a free airplane, we immediately know out about it. How quickly we can implement or adjust our plans is then a matter of operational decision. Everyone knows that we want additional Boeing 737-800NG airplanes. After all, Ukraine International Airlines was the first to begin operating them in Ukraine, and we have trained pilots and cabin crew. That is why we told Boeing that we wanted certain aircraft, of certain year of manufacture, with certain characteristics, and at a certain price. Sometimes, we wait for a very long time because one of these parameters does not fit our needs, even though there are aircraft on the market.
In this particular case, we obtained information from the lessor that free aircraft returned by AeroSvit were available. We were familiar with these aircraft and they suited us. The only issue was how to reach agreement on the commercial and technical aspects of a lease as quickly as possible. As soon as that was done, we began operating the airplanes.
AeroSvit has a valid contract for supply of the new-generation Boeing 737-800 and Boeing 737-900 aircraft in 2012-2016. Will Ukraine International Airlines reach agreement with the leasing company on use of these aircraft?
We have our own plans for regular, charter, and cargo transport services. Our vision for flight hours and the number of cycles can be very different from that of another company. This requires significant changes in configuration: the type of engines, their capacity, seats, number, kitchens, wardrobes, maximum take-off weight, number of passengers, cargo, and the flight range of the aircraft. Of course, we want to get what we need at the best price. For example, Malev’s fleet was assessed not so long ago, but their aircraft did not suit us very well because we would have had to invest additional funds in re-equipping them. The leasing company inevitably has one question: who will pay for it? If the airline company needs it, then the airline company will pay for it. However, we know that there is no surplus money and we therefore try to wait for an airplane that suits us in terms of its characteristics.