While the unsettled epidemiological situation following the pandemic is still very much present and impacting the global airport community, the uncertainties triggered by the invasion of Ukraine by Russia have sparked a new set of challenges for the aviation industry, but nowhere more so than in Ukraine itself.
Speaking on Tuesday 29 March at ACI Europe’s 13th Regional Airports Conference and Exhibition, Dr Vyacheslav Cheglatonyev, Chief Commercial Officer, Odesa International Airport, hammered home just how devastating the war has been for airports and airlines throughout his country as he called for support from his airport colleagues around the world.
“I don’t know what day of the month it is, but today is the 34th day of the war – a full scale war against Ukraine by Russia,” said Cheglatonyev, whose five-year-old daughter had made blue and yellow ribbons in support of Ukraine to give out to conference delegates.
With a population of 43 million, Ukraine is the second largest country in Europe covering 12% of EU territory. It is also home to around 50 airports and aerodromes, 17 of which catered for existing air traffic in 2019. Before the war, President Volodymyr Zelensky had backed a major construction programme for all Ukrainian airports with Odesa alongside several other hubs in the country due a major reconstruction investment. Cheglatonyev also noted that in October 2021 the Ukraine had achieved a milestone, after it was approved to join the Single EU aviation market. “As a result various European carriers were already looking to increase their services to and from the Ukraine, including Wizz Air and Ryanair.”
Situated in southern Ukraine on the Black Sea Coast, Odesa has a catchment of just under 4 million people within three hours of the airport. In 2021 the airport had achieved a 79% recovery on 2019 passenger traffic with 1.3m passengers passing through its doors. Forecasted passenger traffic for 2022 was for 2.2million passengers. Last year also saw a number of infrastructure upgrades at the airport, including a new aerodrome being unveiled in June 2022, a new runway in July and new air bridges in September. “We were proud of our safe, comfortable, modern airport,” said Cheglatonyev.
“Last year we also welcomed five new airlines, including Qatar, Pegasus, Wizz Air, Anadolou and Bees, as well as 23 new routes. We opened new food and beverage concessions showcasing local and national concessions and opened a 400 sq.m. Dufry retail outlet,” added Cheglatonyev revealing Odesa was also voted best regional airport and best infrastructure project in the 2021 Boryspil magazine awards.
However, with the Ukraine now “serving as a shelter for the EU from Russia,” he underlined it is impossible to know what the future holds. “All Ukraine’s airports have been fully or partially destroyed. We have had to leave and I have no idea when we will return and rebuild,” he said, before showing a poignant and silent video demonstrating how airports have been targeted by Russian missiles and bombs.
Calling on Europe’s airport community to show its support for Ukraine, Cheglatonyev urged European countries “to stop thinking war won’ t happen in your country,” as he outlined recommendations for steps to take in the early phases of war. These included direct and effective eternal communications and coordination with aviation authorities, military forces, concessionaires and business partners (such as fuelling companies, car rentals and ATM etc) as being critical. Similarly staff must be communicated with consistently and effectively. Preserve any aerodrome facilities you can. Allow for the provision of financial flows and IT security.
“We are determined to win this war, to return to our homes and rebuild our great country, its economy and our airports,” he said before calling on ACI member airports to lend their support.
“You can help by providing temporary employment programmes for Ukrainian airport specialists, donating used ground handling and airport equipment and establishing a dedicated fund for Ukrainian airports’ recovery,”he concluded.