Airlines and their insurers are turning extra cautious about flights to and from Ukraine. Image Credit: Gulf News

Dubai: The UAE’s major airlines continue to operate flights to Ukraine even as tensions escalate with Russia. The budget airline flydubai, Emirates and Wizz Air Abu Dhabi have flights scheduled to the country in the coming weeks.

flydubai, which previously told Gulf News that it was monitoring the situation, operates a double daily service to Kyiv and three weekly flights to Odessa. Emirates and Wizz Air did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Flights from Dubai to Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, cost anywhere between Dh940-Dh1,600. Wizz Air Abu Dhabi is offering flights to Boryspil International Airport, which is a 30-minute drive from Kyiv, for just Dh166.

Some airlines have cancelled or diverted flights to Ukraine amid fears of a blow up with Russia. One of them is Dutch airline KLM, which has suspended its Ukraine flights until further notice.

“A lot of airlines are already diverting around the Ukrainian airspace, and even the Black Sea, with Russian naval exercises in full flow,” said Andrew Charlton, an independent aviation analyst. “It’s safety first, particularly given the history.”

In 2014, a Malaysian airliner was shot down over an area of eastern Ukraine held by Russia-backed rebels. All 298 people on board died. With the current crisis playing out, some insurers have informed airlines that they will not cover flights going into or operating within Ukraine. In response to the move by insurers, the country has launched a 16.6 billion Hryvnia ($592 million) fund to guarantee the continuation of flights through the region’s airspace.

“The Ukraine government has put up a huge pile of money to cover the insurance costs, but how successful that is remains to be seen,” said Charlton. “Airlines are getting out their dictionaries and looking up ‘prudence’ even as we speak, to work out how far and how much risk they are prepared to accept.”

A way ahead for airlines

Airlines looking to avoid the Ukrainian airspace still have options. “Aircraft can currently still use Russian airspace, if they are, for example, heading to Asia,” said Charlton. “How long that will be the case in the event a war starts remains to be seen – particularly if the airline is registered in a NATO country.

“Historically, Russia charges huge overflight fees, making that path very expensive, but probably cheaper than flying around the airspace. Oil is up, of course, making that a more nuanced calculation.”

Bookings fall

Meanwhile, travel between UAE and Ukraine has taken a hit. With its relatively warm winters, Dubai has traditionally been a destination of preference for tourists from Ukraine and Russia.

“We used to get a lot of bookings from there, but we haven’t been getting a lot of calls in the last two weeks,” said a spokesperson for Regal Tours. “It’s hard to provide a clear picture because they have on-arrival services – a majority of them will be booking flights online”

The UAE Embassy in Ukraine Kyiv on Saturday called on UAE nationals to postpone travel to Ukraine. “It is quite a good holiday spot for travelers going on a budget,” said a spokesperson for Al Badie Travel Agency. “Nobody is travelling now - the advisory is already up and people won’t go to a place where they could get stuck.

“The flow of Russian tourists to UAE has not been affected much,” said the travel agent. “They are managed by the tour operators within Russia.”

Tourism is not the only sector that stands to get impacted. Ukraine's bilateral trade with UAE in 2020 amounted to $900 million. “Dubai is very important to us because of the long and long-standing relationship between us and the great investment opportunities on both sides,” said Yuliya Matvyeyeva, a Kyiv-based PR and communications professional. “A potential Russian invasion of Ukraine could be a major risk that would impact a number of markets - we hope that the political issues will be resolved.”