LVIV -- In a big blow to Ukraine’s investment image and recovering tourism industry, discount airline Ryanair is cancelling plans to fly to Ukraine this fall. The mega carrier accuses the director of Kyiv’s Boryspil International Airport of protectionism.
In a quick response, Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman is calling for reopening talks with the carrier. Infrastructure Minister Volodymyr Omelyan says he suspects collusion between the new director of Boryspil and its top tenant, Ukraine International Airlines. He wants the director Boryspil, four months in the job, fired.
Monday’s parting shot from Dublin-based Ryanair, Europe’s largest airline, blunts government efforts to persuade foreign investors that Ukraine is open for business.
“Regrettably, Kiev airport has chosen to protect high fare airlines (including Ukraine International Airlines) and deprive Ukrainian consumers/visitors access to Europe’s lowest air fares and widest route network,” wrote Ryanair, which carried more international passengers last year than other airline.
Ryanair announced its entrance into Ukraine on March 15, promising routes between London Stansted, Manchester, Stockholm, and Eindhoven in the Netherlands and Kyiv and between Berlin, Budapest, Eindhoven, Krakow, London, Munich, Wroclaw, and Lviv, which would have carried over 500,000 passengers and created 400 jobs in the first year alone.
“Kiev Airport has demonstrated that Ukraine is not yet a sufficiently mature or reliable business location to invest valuable Ryanair aircraft capacity,” wrote Ryanair’s Chief Commercial Officer David O’Brien on the carrier’s site, “We regret also that Lviv Airport has fallen victim to Kiev Airport’s decision.”
The cancellation, if not reversed, will disproportionately hit Lviv. Ukraine’s tourism capital, Lviv was to gain seven new European destinations, compared to four for Kyiv. Lviv stands to lose its first flights to London and Berlin. City authorities say Lviv stands to lose 300,000 tourists per year, with an average spending of 400 euros per tourist.
Boryspil Director Pavlo Ryabikin, a former Kyiv City employee, defended Boryspil’s actions on Facebook.
He said the foreign airline giant had played hardball, demanding preferential flight rates and steep discounts on airport services that would have led to a sharp fall in revenue for Boryspil.
In particular, Ryanair sought a tariff of only $7.50 per passenger for their Kyiv to London flight, a rate only offered on completely new routes. This was not possible, he said in the Facebook post, for the Ryanair flight to Stansted because there were already flights from Boryspil to London Heathrow, which is less than 100 kilometers away. Under airport rules, a route cannot be considered new if the destination is within 100 kilometers of the destination of an existing route.
In response, the government focused media attention on a one month old report from the Antimonopoly Committee of Ukraine that said from 2013 to 2016 Boryspil only provided discounts on airport fees to Ukraine International Airlines.
"The discounts were not provided to other airlines," the committee said, Interfax reported. Boryspil could not be reached for comment.
On Tuesday, Infrastructure Minister Volodymyr Omelyan was quoted by his press attache as saying: “Tomorrow I will propose to the cabinet the dismissal of Ryabikin.”
Following a meeting with the heads of Boryspil and the Infrastructure Ministry Tuesday, Prime Minister Groysman said the government would like to “resume the negotiation process with Ryanair.”
The director of Lviv’s Danylo Halytski International Airport, Tetyana Romanovskaya, took to Facebook following Ryanair’s announcement, blaming Boryspil Director Ryabikin for the loss of the carrier.
“He had a chance to do something but did not,” she wrote, “Why should Lviv be hostage to Kiev?”
“There is no worse feeling than the feeling of lost opportunity and freedom of choice, especially when they were still so close,” Romanovskaya said.
Lviv Mayor Andriy Sadovy told zaxid.net that the influx of tourists on Ryanair would have created "hundreds and hundreds of jobs."
Many Ukrainians hoped Ryanair would have made travel to Europe an affordable reality.
Volodymyr Grosen, a 20-year old Lviv native meeting a friend at Lviv Airport Tuesday, said the cost of air travel is prohibitive for many Ukrainians.
“I’ve never left Ukraine because I couldn’t afford it” he said. “Even the cheapest flights are too much.”
Visa free tourism from Ukraine to the EU started June 11. During the first month, 1,875,647 Ukrainian citizens travelled to the EU. Of this group, only 95,461 or five percent, traveled with biometric passports without visas.
For story comments or tips, please contact UBJ Lviv Correspondent Mark Satter at firstname.lastname@example.org