The Future of Aviation: Ukraine is ready for Take-off

Despite the ongoing war Ukraine is deter­mined to rebuild its aviation industry and enable its citizens to travel by air again. On 8 May, the Centre for Liberal Modernity discussed the future of the Ukrainian aviation industry with European and Ukrainian experts. The most urgent needs are: trainings for staff, funds (loans or direct aid) as well as air defence systems and munition. Lukas Daubner summarised the results of the discus­sion here.

The status quo of the Ukrainian aviation sector was presented by a number of experts during our round table discus­sion The Future of Ukraine’s Aviation Sector. Among them were Yurii Kisiel, MP, Head of the Committee on Transport and Infra­struc­ture, Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, Yulia Klymenko, MP, Vice chair of the Committee on Transport and Infra­struc­ture, Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, Petro Pavlovsky, MP, Head of the Subcom­mittee for Aviation, Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, Serhiy Derkach, Deputy Minister for Commu­ni­ties, Terri­to­ries and Infra­struc­ture Devel­op­ment of Ukraine, Oleksandr Bilchuk, Head of the State Aviation Admin­is­tra­tion of Ukraine, Oleksii Dubrevskyi, CEO, Boryspil Inter­na­tional Airport, Tetiana Romanovska, CEO, Lviv Danylo Halytskyi Inter­na­tional Airport, Viktor Konarev, Head of the Project Imple­men­ta­tion Depart­ment of the Marketing and Sales Direc­torate of State Enter­prise Antonov.

From the German and inter­na­tional side partic­i­pated repre­sen­ta­tives from the German Aerospace Indus­tries Asso­ci­a­tion, German Aviation Asso­ci­a­tion, Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action, German Aerospace Center, Airbus, Boeing as well as repre­sen­ta­tives from further companies.

On 8 February 2024, 16,000 civilian flights were regis­tered worldwide. In Ukraine, there were zero on that day — as on every other day since 24 February 2022. This is painful for a proud aviation nation. Ukraine is after all one of nine countries worldwide with a full cycle of aerospace hardware engi­neering and production.

Ukraine’s Aviation Industry

Kharkiv used to be the indus­trial heart of Ukraine’s aviation industry with Kharkiv State Aircraft Manu­fac­turing Company located there as well as the National Aerospace Univer­sity which trains engineers and other experts. The aviation sector was an important branch of the economy. Before 2022, the airports alone employed 200,000 people and generated a yearly turnover of 2.5 billion Euro.

Right at the beginning of the full scale invasion by Russia, the famous Antonov AN-225 (“Mriya”) — one of the largest cargo aircraft in the world — was destroyed in Hostomel, which is a home base for Antonov and was completely destroyed as well. The Antonov produc­tion plant in Kyiv was also severely damaged.

Antonov was able to save part of its fleet from Russian destruc­tion. The aircraft are now stationed at Leipzig/​Halle Airport and are in regular use there. This not only generates urgently needed capital, but also trains the crews.

Due to damage from Russian attacks, many airports are currently not oper­a­tional. However, the three largest and modern airports in the country — Boryspil (Kyiv), Lviv and Odessa — are oper­a­tionally ready.

Airports try to remain ready to operate

The airport operators are endeav­ouring to keep the airports oper­a­tional despite the ongoing war. The aim is to be able to offer flights as soon as the airspace is open. This is not only important to attract investors to the country. More than 12 million Ukrainians have left the country and, if the situation allows, want to return home or at least visit friends and family. Currently, the only way to get into the country is a long journey by car or train.

Main­taining the ability to function requires not only contin­uous training of employees at the airports, but also aviation security. It is also very expensive because no money can be earned if no flight oper­a­tions take place.

Therefore, one of the biggest chal­lenges alongside restoring the infra­struc­ture is preserving the “human capital” in the industry, airports and airlines: How can at least the core workforce be retained, trained and upskilled? If this potential is lost, recon­struc­tion will hardly develop any momentum. However, this problem is not exclusive to the aviation industry; it also applies to other sectors.

In addition to financial support and concrete indus­trial part­ner­ships, Ukraine’s Western partners can help with training the workforce.

Prag­ma­tism and Drone Production

Antonov is still trying to keep its head above water. Around 9,000 people are still employed. Antonov provides the full cycle of the devel­op­ment, produc­tion and after-sale support services. The company also plays an important role in the produc­tion of drones and the main­te­nance of Ukraine’s residual air force. In general, Ukraine has now inevitably become a centre of excel­lence for drone tech­nology — this could also be an export branch in the future (civil and military). Close coop­er­a­tion with western companies can also lead to a devel­op­ment boost in Europe.

Strategic Part­ner­ships with European Aerospace Companies

Antonov strives to establish long-term strategic part­ner­ships with European aerospace companies and should become part of the European aerospace community. At the moment, Antonov is looking for partners and investors to rebuild the airport and the flight test base in Hostomel.

In principle, the recon­struc­tion of the Ukrainian (aviation) industry is a lucrative business for Western companies. This is the case not only for coop­er­ating with Airlines or plane and drone producers but also for restoring Airports.

The Goal: Flying even before the War ends

In the first months of the war, the guiding scenario was that flight oper­a­tions would resume once the war was over. Now the Ukrainian author­i­ties are working with inter­na­tional aviation agencies and insurers on the partial resump­tion of civil air traffic before the end of the war (similar to the resump­tion of maritime traffic). Like in Israel, the idea is to partly open up the airspace despite the ongoing threat from Russian missiles and fighter jets.

This step would be of enormous (also psycho­log­ical) impor­tance. In addition to aligning Ukrainian require­ments with European standards, the key prereq­ui­site for this would be a signif­i­cant strength­ening of Ukrainian air defence. Only if air sover­eignty is regained the opening of Ukrainian airspace to civilian flights can be considered.

Ukraine is deter­mined to rebuild its aviation industry and enable its citizens to travel by air again. To prevent further destruc­tion to the infra­struc­ture and in the long term enable air travel again, Ukraine needs the means to fight the Russian aggres­sion. In addition to weapons and ammu­ni­tion, this means above all suffi­cient air defence.

The panel­lists agreed: Ukraine is ready to take off. The West must support it in this endeavour.


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