EUROCONTROL recently hosted a webinar to discuss the wider impacts to Europe, and even  beyond, of the airspace closure due to the Ukraine conflict. Eammon Brennan was joined by Henrik Hololei, Director General of the European Commission DG Move, Rafal Milczarski, CEO of LOT Polish Airlines and Raine Luojus, CEO of Fintraffic ANS and CANSO E3 Chair.

It was a lively discussion of this topic raising a lot of topics for the industry to think about. Kicking off with some key statistics from EUROCONTROL:

  • The current price per barrel of jet fuel in March, 2022 is $140/barrel, compared with an average price in 2021 of $78/barrel
  • The average length of a flight from Europe to Asia has increased by 2 – 2.5 hours in each direction
  • Chinese operators still fly through Russian airspace giving them a competitive advantage vs European carriers
  • Due to sanctions, Russian airlines are flying jets that other regions no longer fly due to safety concerns
  • Billions of dollars worth of jets being illegally taken over by Russia without payment

Just considering these highlights, it’s apparent the aviation industry has taken another huge hit following on the heels of the global pandemic.  Western values and collaboration are key. The aviation community and the west have come together with a strong sense of collaboration not seen before. Unfortunately for Russian aviation organisations they seem to have taken a step back of about thirty years.

Many carriers in Europe had been ramping up their flights to the Ukraine as this region was becoming more heavily trafficked for business and holiday reasons. Ryan Air had 50 flight per day and Wizz Air 30. These flights are now off the schedules with downstream implications to revenues and the staff involved in these routes. On the other hand, rerouting causes congestion in other routes that can result in delays, cancellations and unhappy travelers.

Another consideration for Polish airspace is the requirement of increased military use. This limits the civilian use of this airspace, causing more rerouting. There is also an increased workload on the Polish ANSP, PANSA, as they are supporting civilian and NATO traffic.  Looking at LOT’s current flight schedules, 13% of flights have experienced rescheduling and 9% cancellations.

The increase in fuel cost will ultimately impact the cost of flying and create challenges for operators to meet environmental goals with deviated routes. Let’s not forget that some passengers are already deciding to stay close to home and are reluctant to travel at this time. There is a silver lining here with the EU aviation solidarity acting as one Europe.

Finland has lost 15% of its overflight traffic impacting the financial challenges to cover ANSP costs in an already stretched market. The panelists considered the forecast for the summer. InterEurope and TransAtlantic traffic are looking positive for the summer and projected to reach 75% of 2019 levels. And travel within the US, 90% of 2019 levels. LOT more specifically is seeing a 33% downturn in traffic and doesn’t see a promising summer travel season on the horizon. The mood in Poland is not about holidays. With Ukrainian refugees everywhere to be seen, there is more interest in spending to help than spending for luxuries such as international holidays.

Closing remarks focused on the hope for imminent peace, building back better and a wish that the solidarity we’ve seen in Europe continues long after the conflict has ended. See the whole conversation.