Insight: Ukraine’s SkyUp expects traffic to reach 2019 levels this year

Young hybrid airline is to add another Boeing 737NG to its 11-strong fleet

SkyUp Another, 12th Boeing 737NG is expected to join SkyUp’s fleet by the end of August (SkyUp)

Ukrainian hybrid carrier SkyUp expects its operational results to reach 2019 levels by year-end, despite the forecast that the country’s industry on the whole will suffer a 50 per cent decline, SkyUp’s general director Evgeny Khainatsky revealed in an interview with UNIAN newswire. Launched in 2018 as a leisure charter carrier the start-up served 1.7 million passengers and started scheduled service last year, projecting further growth, which is now hindered by the Covid-19 pandemic. However, the airline is proceeding with its fleet expansion plans whilst negotiating industry support measures with the Ukrainian government.

“In general, we project the traffic this year to be level with last year. But in 2019 we had just entered the scheduled service market, so the load factor on several destinations wasn’t very high. We also had fewer airplanes. This year we already have 11, and are adding the 12th one shortly,” Khainatsky said. The Boeing 737-900 configured to carry 215 passengers is expected to join SkyUp’s fleet by the end of August. It is the final one of the batch of four aircraft contracted by the airline last year under an operational lease agreement. Should Khainatsky’s optimistic scenario materialize – by which the airline would completely restore its flight programme and even adding a couple of new destinations provided existing travel restrictions are uplifted after July 15 and the EU opens up for Ukrainian traveling public – SkyUp wouldn’t have to downscale in terms of operations, fleet or staff. “We’re expanding the network, but decreasing the frequencies on some routes. For example we planned daily flights to Barcelona not only from Kyiv, but from some regional cities as well, but now we’ve cancelled the regional plans and reduced frequency from Kyiv to three or four weekly flights. But at the same time we’re launching new destinations, such as Istanbul. So the resulting number of flights will be the same,” SkyUp’s top executive explained. The service to Istanbul will start off in August, as well as Prague, another new destination, added to the existing Pardubice offering in Czech Republic.

During the pandemic travel lockdown SkyUp reconfigured part of its fleet for transporting cargo. “The peak [of the freight missions] was in May, when we flew not only in Ukraine, but across the European Union. During this period we made over 100 flights and transported more than 1,000 tons of freight,” Khainatsky revealed. However, he admitted that these flights could not financially offset the losses due to the April lockdown, which cost the airline $30 million in direct losses. “But if we will sell well, we might reach break-even by the end of the year,” he projects.

On June 26 the Ukrainian start-up resumed passenger flights with trimmed domestic offering of five out of eight scheduled routes, and three international flights to holiday destinations in Turkey, Egypt and Albania.

SkyUp, among other companies of the Ukrainian airline industry have addressed the government for support through the pandemic crisis. “We have had a round of consultations with the Infrastructure ministry, but the final decision is up to the cabinet,” Khainatsky said. “We realise, there is no money [for direct subsidies]. But there are other measures such as tax holidays, waiving fuel excise duty and VAT and so on. So we’re asking to introduce the tools that would help the industry through these hard times. We know that the Industry ministry has some bailout plan, but it’s unclear at what stage it is now,” he concluded.

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