From June 11, Ukrainian citizens can travel visa-free to 34 European countries. How will EU visa-free regime affect the flight network of the Kharkiv International Airport?
At the moment, Kharkiv airport experiences a revival, despite the fact that the war continues only several hundred kilometers from Kharkiv.
In 2014-2015, the military action in Donbas, plus the economic and political crisis in the country, played a negative role, it was a tough time. Some airlines reduced their activities. This reflected in the dynamics of passenger traffic: in 2014 it dropped by almost 28%. And in 2015 declined by 14% more.
But in 2016 the situation has improved. The management of the airport has made great efforts to renew the flight network they had before. Consequently, a significant increase in passenger traffic (61%) in 2016 is largely due to the expansion of the geography of international flights from Kharkiv. However, this is also possible because of the security of the city provided by Ukrainian soldiers.
And in May 2017, Kharkiv airport broke its record – 84,300 people, surpassing its previous record in June 2012 during UEFA Euro 2012 – 80,058 people. All this is due to the expansion of the airport’s flight network, the entry of new airlines and the opening of new regular flights.
Now having received visa-free regime, taking into account the simplification of the border crossing procedures with the European Union, the demand for air carrier services will grow.
“In the context of the entry into force of the visa-free regime with the EU, we had negotiations with the airline LOT Polish Airlines, and from July 2017 the number of Kharkiv-Warsaw flights will increase to nine per week (now six). As Belavia, UIA, Pegasus, Atlaglobal, Turkish Airlines offer convenient flights to Europe via their hub airports in Minsk, Kyiv, and Istanbul, we also expect an increase in passenger traffic in these directions,” says the commercial director for aviation activities of the airport Vladyslav Ilyin.
For today the most popular are flights to Warsaw, Minsk, Kyiv, Istanbul, and Antalya. Meanwhile, the flight to Warsaw is the only direct flight in Western Europe direction. This issue is worrying for Kharkiv IT companies, because most of their clients come from Western Europe and North America, and the availability of direct flights play a significant role in business relations. And for Kharkivites, wishing to visit European countries, giving the present visa-free regime, direct flights would “simplify life”.
According to Ilyin, the airport continuously works with airlines to open new flights.
“The most promising directions from Kharkiv are Italy, Germany, and Poland. We hope that in the coming months there will be news regarding the opening of direct flights to these destinations,” says the airport executive.
The most pleasant is that low-cost airlines may start flying to Kharkiv. Wizz Air Ukraine was the first low-cost carrier in Ukraine which had worked in Kharkiv in 2008. But because of low demand, sales of tickets to Kharkiv were closed.
Ilyin believes that there are more chances now: “It is not worth to regard low-costers as a separate group. Unfortunately, there is no queue of carriers who want to open flights in Kharkiv or the eastern part of Ukraine. The airline with a classical model of doing business is very difficult to attract to Ukraine and Kharkiv in particular. Firstly, the situation in Donbas, as well as the economic and political uncertainties in the country, negatively affect the interest of airlines in the opening of flights. In spite of this, we are very actively negotiating with airlines including low-costers. I hope that soon some of them will open flights from Kharkiv.”
The visa-free regime has become an opportunity for Kharkiv, that has the same size of population as Munich or Milan, to attract new airlines. Kharkiv as a destination is underrated so far; now, a window of opportunity is opened to make a fortune when this will be changing. Perhaps, soon Kharkivites will be able to enjoy direct flights to more European cities, and the airport, in turn, will get greater growth of passenger traffic and receive more tourists from Europe.
Text: Anastasia Mitrofanova