President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyi came up with the idea of creating a national airline in April 2020. According to the head of state, it should be a carrier "at the level of Turkish Airlines or Singapore Airlines," and such an airline should ensure orders for Ukraine’s Antonov state aircraft manufacturing enterprise. In particular, it was suggested that the airline should use AN aircraft for domestic air flights. In general, the rhetoric around the creation of the new airline was mainly in the context of development of Ukraine’s domestic aviation industry.
It was announced in August 2021 that the French consulting company Aerogestion was involved in the work on the project to create the new national air carrier. Even then, many experts suspected that the French consulting company would recommend French airplanes for the new airline. This suspicion intensified when an Airbus A220-300 aircraft was presented at an event attended by Ukraine’s minister of infrastructure in September. The Airbus Aerospace Corporation’s Vice President for Sales in Central and Northern Europe, Russia, & Central Asia Kimon Sotiropoulos said at the time that this family of aircraft, together with the A321 family of aircraft, was considered the most promising for the Ukrainian market. "The A220 and A321 are the best solutions for countries with such geography and seasonality as Ukraine. The A220 has the right parameters to cover both domestic flights and flights to Europe, Asia, and the Middle East," he said during the presentation.
The Ukrainian Ministry of Infrastructure and Airbus signed a memorandum of intent to cooperate on the establishment of the Ukrainian national air carrier at the Boryspil airport on 25 November. Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyi announced that the new carrier would be named the Ukrainian National Airlines (UNA) half an hour before the signing of the document.
What do we currently know about the airline?
Beginning of flights
According to Patrice Fassier, a consultant at Aerogestion, flights are scheduled to begin in 2022. The airline will initially operate flights on two domestic routes. The number of domestic routes is expected to reach eight in 2023. According to plans, the number of flights should remain unchanged until 2026.
The airline is expected to operate 7,000 flights on these eight domestic routes in 2023.
The airline company is expected to begin performing international flights in 2022, beginning with 14 flights on medium-haul routes.
Expansion of the network
The new carrier is expected to operate an international network of medium-haul flights on 37 routes during the period of 2023-2026. This network is expected to consist of more than 15,000 flights in 2026.
The airline is expected to begin operating long-haul international flights in 2023, beginning with flights to one destination. The number of long-haul flights is expected to increase to five by 2026.
Given the stated need for FAA certification of the airline’s fleet of aircraft, the destinations for the planned long-haul flights will probably include North America.
According to a presentation by Aerogestion, the new carrier's fleet will include both narrow-body and wide-body airliners. The airline also plans to operate turboprop aircraft.
The narrow-body airliners are expected to be designed to carry 150-180 passengers, the turboprop aircraft up to 70 passengers, and the wide-body airliners 300-330 passengers.
The airline plans to begin with a fleet of 3-5 aircraft in 2022, increasing to 7-11 aircraft by 2023, 12-17 aircraft in 2024, 15-17 aircraft in 2025, and up to 20 airliners in 2026.
The types of aircraft that will be purchased have not been officially announced. However, Sotiropoulos said after the signing of the memorandum with Airbus, "Flying from scratch with new technology means the airline will start with a low carbon footprint."
It remains an open question whether the Antonov state aircraft manufacturing enterprise will receive any orders for aircraft in such a situation. According to the Ukrainian Ministry of Infrastructure, the products of the Ukrainian aircraft manufacturing enterprise have not yet been discounted. "Nobody is rejecting the idea of using Antonov's aircraft. The issue of what the fleet will be like is still being studied. However, the consultants’ proposals indicate that there is a corresponding request for different types of aircraft, from regional to long-rail aircraft. The fact that a memorandum was signed with Airbus today does not mean that the final choice [of supplier of aircraft has been made]. It will depend on the commercial terms that Ukraine receives," said Oleksandr Azarkhina, an adviser to the minister.
According to Fassier, the airline's budget will be EUR 96 million in the first year of operation and EUR 50-60 million in the second year.
On the part of the government of Ukraine, the state budget allocates UAH 0.5 billion for financing the creation of the national air carrier in 2021. The Ministry of Infrastructure estimates that an additional UAH 2.5 billion will be needed in 2022. It is obvious that this amount, if allocated, is insufficient to cover the carrier's budget at the initial stage.
So far, nobody has stated clearly where the money for the expensive pleasure of creating the airline, especially on such a large scale, will come from.
"Regarding additional financing and financing through partnerships, various mechanisms are currently being considered. Considering that the newly created company will be a joint-stock company, the possible shareholders are also being studied," Azarkhina told reporters when asked about the source of funds in addition to the announced UAH 3 billion from the state budget.
Not a low-cost airline
The Aerogestion consultant said a week ago that consultants had not yet decided on the new airline’s business model, but he added that it would definitely not be a low-cost airline.
“We have not yet finalized the options for the national carrier. I do not think it will be able to compete with low-cost airlines. Therefore, it will clearly not be a low-cost airline. It will be more of a hybrid airline. We cannot yet say what niche the new carrier will occupy, but it will most likely be a conventional airline," Fassier said.
At the same time, according to him, the new carrier’s hybrid business model will include, among other things, the practices of low-cost airlines. "Flexibility is important here, that is, the ability to reduce the cost of tickets as much as possible to make them affordable and adopt the best practices of modern low-cost airlines."