For Ukraine, Ryanair’s vote of confidence is welcome news

‘The fastest way to rebuild and restore the Ukrainian economy will be with low-fare air travel,’ says Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary.

In October 2021, Ukrainian and EU officials signed off on an Open Skies Treaty that effectively united Ukrainian and European Union airspace. The agreement removed a range of bilateral restrictions on routes between Ukraine and individual EU member countries and had been expected to significantly boost the number of services connecting Ukraine and the European Union, while also encouraging new carriers to enter the Ukrainian aviation market.

It also allowed EU carriers to begin serving Ukrainian domestic routes.

Back then, Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary said that he was actively considering “aggressive expansion” in Ukraine.

“The one market I would point to is Ukraine,” O’Leary said. “I would think we will be a major investor in Ukraine when they join up to European Open Skies.”

By the time Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 grounded all flights to and from the country’s airports, Ryanair was already Ukraine’s second largest airline, behind flag carrier Ukraine International Airlines (UIA).

‘Charging back’

Now, O’Leary has made a new commitment to Ukraine, declaring on July 20 that when the skies over Ukraine reopen for commercial aviation, Ryanair plans to “charge back” into the country by linking its main airports with over 20 EU capitals.

Following a meeting with Ukrainian Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov ay Kyiv’s Boryspil Airport, O’Leary unveiled plans to invest heavily—over three billion euros—to rapidly rebuild Ukraine’s aviation industry once the war ends and the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) declares that flying to and from Ukraine is safe again.

“Ryanair remains a committed partner in rebuilding and investing in Ukraine aviation,” said O’Leary. “Today we saw that in the most difficult conditions of war, the Boryspil airport team demonstrates its professionalism and is fully ready for the resumption of flights as soon as possible.”

Ryanair has committed to returning flights to and from Ukraine within eight weeks of the reopening of Ukraine air space. This will see 600 weekly flights being operated by Ryanair aircraft from the main airports of Kyiv, Lviv and Odesa, connecting these cities to over 20 EU capitals.

In addition, Ryanair plans to open daily domestic flights between Kyiv, Lviv and Odesa, as soon as those airports are able to handle them.

Ten million seats

Ryanair plans in the first 12 months post war to offer over five million seats to and from and within Ukraine, which it intends to build to over 10 million seats over a five year period.

O’Leary confirmed that Ryanair will base up to 30 new Boeing 737 MAX aircraft the three main Ukraine airports.

“The fastest way to rebuild and restore the Ukrainian economy will be with low fare air travel,” he added.

The airline will employ hundreds of Ukrainian pilots, cabin crew and IT professionals, “and we will look to create thousands of new jobs in aviation for Ukrainian citizens”, said O’Leary.

Having previously also served Kharkiv and Kherson airports prior to the invasion, Ryanair also plans to return to serving those airports too, “as soon as the infrastructure has been restored”.

According to Minister Kubrakov, the resumption of flights will be possible as soon as the security situation allows.

“However, we are already working on solutions and investment plans to enable aircraft to fly quickly.”

Whenever that may be, Ryanair’s vote of confidence in Ukraine is welcome news.

“A major foreign company is thinking about what happens when we win. That’s exactly the kind of optimism we want to hear,” says Veronika Radchenko, a student in Kyiv.

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