Airlines scrambled to adapt to conflicts in Europe on Thursday, as Ukraine closed its airspace, fuel prices soared, and airlines were asked to “be careful” in the depths of Russia hours after Moscow’s military action. invaded Ukraine.
Moldova in southwestern Ukraine also halted flights, while Belarus in the north said civilian flights could no longer fly over parts of its territory after Russian President Vladimir Putin authorized the dawn operation.
The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) said Ukraine’s skies and airspace over Russia and Belarus could pose a risk as the borders between Ukraine and 100 nautical miles (185 km).
“There is a risk of both deliberate targeting and misidentification of civilian aircraft in particular,” the agency said.
The availability and possible use of a wide variety of land and air warfare systems poses a high risk to civilian flights operating at all altitudes and flight levels.
It later posted an update on the wider area of Russian airspace, advising airlines to “be careful” when flying in air traffic zones controlled by Moscow or Rostov-on-Don.
The US Federal Aviation Administration has expanded an area in or near Ukraine where US airlines cannot operate.
Since the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine in 2014, the aviation industry has drawn greater attention to the risks the conflict poses to civil aviation.
EASA said that the Russian Ministry of Defense has sent an urgent message to Ukraine that it poses a high risk to flight safety due to the use of weapons and military equipment, and has asked Ukraine’s air traffic control to stop the flights.
With the West showing support by transmitting detectable signals in recent weeks, websites showing multiple intelligence-gathering flights over or near Ukraine prior to the escalation, civilian flights were halted, and analysts cited empty space as any military flights went dark.
Airlines have swept the entire country in crowded corridors north and west, leaving a void on the aviation map.
The tracking website FlightRadar24 showed that an El Al flight from Tel Aviv to Toronto was making a U-turn through Ukrainian airspace at the time of shutdown.
A LOT Polish Airlines flight from Warsaw to Kiev returned, as did flights to Kiev operated by Air India and Aegean Airlines.
Ukraine International Airlines, which sent part of its fleet abroad last week, diverted a flight from Kiev to Moldova. Some of their planes were grounded in Kiev.
Hungarian Wizz Air said it was trying to evacuate the Ukraine-based crew, their families and the four planes.
In the London insurance world, insurers acted quickly to contain their risk.
Leading war risk insurers have reduced the notice period for cancellations of Ukrainian airlines’ policies to 24 hours, said Bruce Carman, chief insurance officer at Hive Aero in London.
Airline shares fluctuated, the index of leading European carriers fell 6%, and US carriers wiped out losses early as some analysts warned a sanctions war was forcing carriers to fly longer routes.
The United Kingdom said it has banned all Russian airlines from entering or landing in its airspace, including Aeroflot, which flies daily to London.
Airlines and companies that control billions of dollars worth of jets have expressed concern about the risk of shutting down their own airspace as part of Russia’s tit-for-tat sanctions.
“While that means Russia shooting itself in the foot, I can’t ignore it when sanctions begin to take effect,” said airline analyst Robert Mann.
Air corridors between Europe or parts of North America and Asia run into Russia, creating excessive airfares.
The crisis also cast a shadow on broader travel demand for the third northern summer in a row after two years of the pandemic.
US carriers are increasing their capacity, anticipating increased demand to Europe. But Mann said the conflict could force travelers to change plans.
Those who can fly after oil rises are likely to face higher ticket prices. $105 per barrel Thursday.
The head of major French aerospace supplier Safran, however, said subdued travel demand remained strong.
Meanwhile, Russia suspended domestic flights to several airports near the Ukrainian border, including Rostov-on-Don, Krasnodar and Stavropol, until March 2.
A notice to the pilots said the move was to “provide safety” for civilian flights.