On Thursday, Ukraine closed its airspace to all civilian flights as authorities around the world hurried to advise airlines to avoid the region owing to the risk of planes being shot down by specialist anti-aircraft missiles.
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin announced a military operation’ in Eastern Ukraine in the early hours of Thursday morning.
Observers think that the operation is a prelude to a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, with an attack on Kyiv as a possible target.
On Thursday, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) issued a ‘conflict zone information bulletin’ to airlines, instructing them to avoid flying over Ukrainian airspace and to exercise ‘extreme caution’ between 100 nautical miles of the Bielorussian and Russia-Ukraine borders.
The British government also issued an urgent ‘notice to air missions’ warning airlines of a hazardous situation within Ukraine. “This is due to the potential risk from dedicated anti-aircraft weaponry and heightened military activity”, the UK Department for Transport said in a statement.
Due to growing tensions, most European airlines have already halted flights to and from Ukraine, with Lufthansa, KLM, and Air France all grounding aircraft in recent days. Wizz Air and Ryanair stated on Thursday that their operations in Ukraine had been halted.
“Due to the current events in Ukraine and the airspace closure, Wizz Air regrets to inform our customers that the airline must temporarily suspend all flight operations in the country,” the airline said in a statement on Thursday.
Ryanair said it would suspend Ukraine flights for 14 days and take flights off the market for at least four weeks, according to a spokeswoman.
“We sincerely regret and apologize for these unprecedented disruptions and any inconvenience that they will inevitably cause to our Ukrainian customers,” Ryanair said in a statement.
After Ukraine abruptly closed its airspace on Thursday, Ukrainian airline Skyup Airlines flight PQ7980 from Tashkent to Kyiv was forced to detour to Chisinau, Moldova’s capital.
After the restriction was announced, an El Al Israel Airlines flight from Tel Aviv to Toronto was obliged to immediately detour Ukrainian airspace.