Unusual BizAv activity as the heat rises in Ukraine

05 Mar 2014

With the Ukrainian crisis now building before our eyes we have decided to take a look a the role our industry is playing in the growing conflict.

Time and again, business aviation has proven to be a vital tool when normality turns into chaos. We saw it in 2010 when the Icelandic Volcano Eyjafjallajökull erupted leading to travel chaos in both Europe and North America. Heavy Jet Operators came to rescue, shuttling passengers back and forth, providing the support Commercial Aviation couldn’t.

In early 2011 we saw it again, when the Arab Spring spread like a deluge across the Arabian world and business aviation became the main source of transport for getting expats out of the hot zones.

With the Ukrainian crisis now building before our eyes we have decided to take a look a the role our industry is playing in the growing conflict.

After months of protests on the Independence Square in Kiev by the Euromaidan movement, Ukraine was on the brink of civil war. On February 22nd the parliament voted that the president Viktor Yanukovych was no longer able to fulfill his duties, and his own party later renounced him. On February 24th a warrant for his arrest was issued. Yanukovych fled Kiev on Feb 21st first to Crimea and then on to Russia.

A few semi-chaotic days followed and then on March 1st the Ukrainian crisis took a dramatic new turn when the Russian Duma gave president Putin the go-ahead to position troops in the Crimea peninsula to protect Russian interests, an act which represents a severe infringement of international law, according to much of the West. With this in mind we set out to analyze Ukrainian business aviation travel patterns during the entire Ukrainian Crisis to see if we could identify any unusual behavior. Something interesting has definitely been going on, but not what we thought.

When the Russian Duma gave president Putin the go-ahead to position troops in the Crimean peninsula we expected to see the same travel patterns as we did during the Arab spring. We expected to see non-native Russians trying to get out of Crimea to safer ground and expats getting out of the country. This, however, does not seem to have happened over the weekend. In fact, it appears that business aviation activity was running as usual. During 2013 there were approximately fifty-one business aviation departures out of Ukraine each day, on average. So far in 2014 the average number of daily departures has been around forty-one.

March 1st saw forty-three departures and March 2nd twenty-seven. Compared with an average Saturday, which sees forty-one daily departures, and an average Sunday, which sees forty-six business aviation departures, this is business as usual or even a reduction in business aviation demand.

While for the most part the crisis hasn’t resulted in abnormal traffic patterns within the Ukraine, we have detected one instance of unusual behavior during the past few weeks. Ten days prior to the Russian Invasion of Crimea, on February 19, Eurocontrol recorded seventy departures. Then on Feb 20th one hundred and thirty-seven departures were recorded. This tapered off on Feb 21st and 22nd, which saw seventy-seven departures each. These four days saw significantly higher activity then the average, and one day saw nearly triple the amount of activity expected on a normal day.

The absolute majority of these flights were performed on flights from Kiev to Donetsk, with Kiev to Moscow seeing the second highest number of flights during the period.

Why is Kiev to Donetsk so interesting and just how extraordinary are these activity numbers?

During 2013 the average number of business aviation flights from Kiev to Donetsk was 2.7, and between Jan 1st and Feb 18th of this year the average number of business aviation flights on this route decreased slightly from 2.7 to 2.3. Then something interesting happened.

According to Eurocontrol, on February 19th nine business aviation flights were documented on the route from Kiev to Donetsk. On the 20th the number of flights on this route rose to twenty and on the 21st seven flights were recorded. Over a three day period thirty-six flights were recorded, flights which in a normal period would take place over the course of around fifteen days.

Seven of these thirty-six flights were performed by Falcon 50 aircraft, seven were on Premier 1 aircraft, four were on Citation Excel/XLS, three were on Challenger 604/605 and the rest were split between Phenoms, Mustangs, Sovereigns, Legacies and other.

So why is the Kiev – Donetsk route interesting? Well Donetsk was and is the home territory of former president Yanukovych, his family and many of his closest ministers and associates. Without knowing who was on each specific flight it is safe to assume that more people than Yanukovych have been feeling the heat in Kiev.

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