Back in 1992, Ukraine International was co-founded as an international carrier of independent Ukraine by the Ukrainian State Association of Civil Aviation and GPA (thereafter AerCap B.V.), the world’s largest aircraft lessor.
Over the 15-year period, the airline has attracted top class strategic and financial investors. In 1995, the Ukrainian Government shareholding was transferred to the State Property Fund. In 1996, Austrian Airlines and Swissair became shareholders with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, EBRD, joining shortly – in 2000.
Organizational model of a public-private entity empowered UIA to take advantage of the strengths of all shareholders, to seize a vast selection of business opportunities, as well as to adopt best maintenance, operation, service, and management practices of its international partners.
Initially, UIA was meant to establish non-stop operations between Ukraine and Western Europe and successfully implement the strategy of a point-to-point carrier.
By its 18th anniversary in 2009, UIA became one of Ukraine`s key aviation market players with 20% business segment. However, further development required the UIA business strategy revision. The latter coincided with the change of the company’s ownership in 2010 and was triggered by international investors’ withdrawal from the equity fueled by the shift in their market strategies in Ukraine and expiration of the EBRD investment conventional participation period.
Amid challenging operating environment and intense price-based competition, privatization guaranteed the UIA business flexibility and allowed commencing transformation from a point-to-point into a network carrier.
In 2013, following the business collapse of the main competitor, UIA turned out to be the sole carrier capable of averting market infrastructure collapse. The transition process passed much more dynamic than it had been planned initially. Over twelve months, UIA had to boost operations by doubling fleet and enhancing the team. The latter empowered the airline to resume operations to most destinations “inherited” from the competitor carrier.
Involuntary expansion jump-started the UIA operations’ optimization and prioritized the development of Ukraine’s transit potential. UIA built up its operations so as to generate and direct transit passenger traffic from the North to the South and from West to the East via its hub, Kyiv Boryspil International Airport.
UIA made its first long-haul flight on December 9, 2013 on the Kyiv-Bangkok route on Boeing 767-300ER. The second route from Kyiv to New York was launched on April 25, 2014. Thus, direct air connection between Ukraine and the United States was restored.
In 2014, due to the complex political and economic conditions caused by the beginning of the russian invasion of Ukraine in the east, the occupation and annexation of Crimea, the devaluation of the national currency and, accordingly, a sharp increase of expenses in foreign currency, UIA was forced to stabilize the business by reducing costs. For the first time ever, UIA had to reduce the staff, optimize the fleet, stop the operation of several unprofitable routes, and cancel the air transportation between Ukraine and russia.
Meantime, to sustain the business and guarantee passengers the service availability, the UIA Management Team decided to modify the operating model and commence systematically decreasing fares by excluding additional services cost from the ticket price. Eventually, the latter empowered UIA to offer clients competitive fares and become the world’s first network low-fare carrier.
Effective from 2014 to 2017, UIA continued to maintain and develop a route network to provide a hub model despite the overflight of the territory of russia, which made it uncompetitive. The hub model of development was approved by a presidential decree and was developed by joint efforts with Boryspil Airport.
At the end of 2019, UIA's top management initiated the measures to optimize the airline's route network in order to reduce excess costs and bring the company to break-even point in 2020 with further stable development. In particular, unprofitable flights to Almaty, Beijing and Bangkok were canceled based on unjustified flight costs due to the need to fly over the territories of russia. Between 2014-2019, due to unequal business conditions (overflight of the territory of russia on the eastern shoulder of the network, carried out exclusively by UIA among the competitors on the route), the airline lost about $ 216 million. Because of measures to revise the flight program, UIA in early 2020 attracted an unscheduled revenue of $ 11 million.
January 8, 2020, was the largest plane crash in Ukrainian aviation in decades. An UIA plane with registration number UR-PSR, departing from Khomeini Airport, flight PS752 from Tehran to Kyiv, was shot down by a military missile in the skies over Iran. There were 176 people on board: 167 passengers and 9 crew members, all of whom died.
In the spring of 2020, a complete lockdown was introduced to stop coronavirus infection COVID-19. During this period, regular flights in Ukraine and abroad were stopped, so UIA management implemented an anti-crisis program to restructure costs, optimize staff and minimize airline expenses. This has reduced UIA's mandatory monthly operating costs by almost three times, while freeing about 1,000 people. The airline carried out a number of evacuations and humanitarian flights to return Ukrainian citizens to the territory of Ukraine, as well as cargo flights for the transportation of goods as part of the fight against COVID-19.
Since the partial resumption of the airline's scheduled flights in June 2020, the company's work focused on flexible and short-term flight network planning, taking into account frequent situational changes in the rules of entry to the foreign countries during 2020. Starting December 17, 2020, UIA launched flights to one of the largest airports in Europe - London Heathrow, continuing flights to another airport in the capital of Great Britain - Gatwick.
In 2021, during the post-pandemic recovery with a reduction in regular transportation, the share of the airline's charter flights increased significantly. In this way, UIA could quickly adapt to actual operating conditions in difficult times and became Ukraine's third largest charter air carrier on the market. The number of performed charter flights in 2021 increased by 62% compared to 2019.
Starting spring 2021, UIA moved to the gradual restoration of the original routes network and the renewal of air connections between the regions of Ukraine and numerous European countries through the aviation hub at Boryspil International Airport. In 2021, the airline successfully implemented measures to optimize and improve the company's operational indicators, minimize the impact of the crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, and, in particular, strengthen its reputational positions in the domestic and international passenger air transportation markets. At the same time, UIA continued to implement digital technologies in the service environment.
The transformation and optimization of UIA operational performance in 2020-2021 caused an obvious change in the trend towards stabilization even in the crisis period, which became possible thanks to the transition of the company's business model from a network to a hybrid one and a significant reduction of expenses. The economy allowed UIA to demonstrate one of the lowest flight cost levels among international network carriers based on the Cost Available Seat Kilometer (CASK) indicator.
On February 24, 2022, due to the beginning of the full-scale military invasion of russia on the territory of Ukraine and the closure of the airspace of Ukraine for civil aviation, UIA suspended the performance of regular and charter flights to/from the territory of Ukraine.
To maintain operational activity in the conditions of martial law and ensure its contribution to the economic stability of Ukraine, UIA, as a long-term certified operator of IOSA, offered partners to take advantage of the availability of UIA aircrafts for charter and humanitarian flights and cooperation on "wet leasing" condition outside Ukraine. At the same time, cooperation was offered exclusively to companies that did not fly to russia and Belarus and did not receive financing from these countries.
Thus, in 2022, UIA successfully implemented the following projects of cooperation and operational performance outside Ukraine:
1. UIA performed a number of charter flights to transport various Ukrainian and foreign sports teams, musical groups, Ukrainian repatriates, and Israeli pilgrims. In particular, flights were performed for the National Football Team of Ukraine, FC Dynamo, FC Shakhtar, and FC Vorskla, as well as by request of famous European football clubs FC Lech Poznan, FC Victoria Pilsen, FC Kisvarda, FC Rakow Czestochowa, FC Slovacko, FC Zurich and others. The Estonian national basketball team, the Jukurit hockey team (Finland), the Leeds Rhinos rugby team (England), orchestras with the participation of Andrea Bocelli, the Divan Orchestra, and others were also transported.
2. UIA carried out a charter flights program by request of the leading Polish tour operator ITAKA, joining the European tourist air transportation service on a Boeing 737-900 aircraft, which was based at the Katowice airport. As part of the cooperation, UIA operated daily charter flights from Polish cities (Katowice, Warsaw, Krakow, Rzeszów) to Malaga, Antalya, Tenerife, Tirana, Las Palmas, Lanzarote, Marsa Alam, and Djerba in the period July - September.
3. UIA ensured the implementation of "wet leasing" projects using aircraft and UIA's crews:
- With the airBaltic Airlines on a Boeing 737-900 plane from Riga to Berlin, Madrid, Brussels, Oslo, Copenhagen, etc.
- With Smart Lynx on a Boeing 737-800 plane from Riga and Tallinn to popular resort destinations.
- With Freebird Airlines Europe LTD on a Boeing 737-800 from Cologne to popular tourist destinations.
- With Air Albania on a Boeing 737-800 from Tirana to Istanbul, Athens, Milan, and Rome.
- With the Windrose Airlines on a Boeing 737-800 plane from Ljubljana to Ostrava and Katowice, from Ostrava to Belfast, from Kosice to Larnaca; on a Boeing 737-900 plane from Copenhagen to Vilnius; on an Embraer-190 plane from Prague to Aalborg, and from Aalborg to Luleå.
In general, in April - October 2022, almost 450 commercial flights were operated under the UIA callsigns between various cities in Europe and to Kazakhstan, Saudi Arabia, and Israel.
On November 25, 2022, the airline celebrated its anniversary - 30 years since the first flight on the Kyiv-London-Kyiv route. Unfortunately, this important day for UIA and the entire aviation of Ukraine was overshadowed by russia's full-scale military invasion of Ukraine. Even though the war has hurt Ukrainian civil aviation, UIA is doing everything possible to preserve the operational activities of the airline and believes that the civil aviation of Ukraine will be revived after the victory and will continue its development as an essential driving force of the post-war recovery of Ukraine.
MAIN ACHIEVEMENTS OF UIA
- Since the establishment of UIA, an active process of developing air connections with the largest capitals of Western Europe has begun. This course of development became an important moment for the formation of business and cultural connections of the young and independent state of Ukraine.
- On November 2, 1992, UIA leased its first, completely new aircraft, a 170-seat Boeing 737-400 with registration number UR-GAA, thus becoming the first airline in the CIS to operate this type of aircraft and start cooperating with the largest American Boeing Corporation.
- The first flight of the airline was performed on the route Kyiv-London-Kyiv on November 25, 1992. This date is considered the birthday of UIA. After London, UIA opened flights to Paris and Frankfurt. At the beginning of 1993, UIA's route network covered several European destinations - Berlin, Milan, Amsterdam, Vienna, Munich and Brussels.
- In April 1999, UIA received a new Boeing 737-300, commissioned by the airline. The aircraft was given the registration number UR-GAH and its own name "Mowgli", which was chosen at the all-Ukrainian competition. In June 2001, “Mowgli” transported Pope John Paul II from Kyiv to Lviv during his official visit to Ukraine and then from Lviv to Italy.
- On July 9, 2008, UIA was the first in Ukraine to start operating a Western-made Boeing 737-300SF cargo aircraft with registration number UR-FAA, which made its first flight on the route Kyiv-Vienna-Kyiv.
- On July 24, 2009, the airline's fleet was replenished with the first Boeing 737-800 "Next Generation", which passed the official registration procedure in Ukraine and received the registration number UR-PSA.
- Hub model of the company's development gave positive indicators. Providing a hub model has allowed the airline to increase passenger traffic every year. According to the results of 2014, UIA carried almost 4 million passengers, 52% was transit traffic. In 2015, approximately 5 million passengers were transported. And the figure for 2016 was more than 6 million passengers (with a transit rate of more than 52%). In 2018, UIA carried more than 8 million passengers, which is 15% more than in 2017. The share of transfer passengers on UIA scheduled flights was 53%.
- At the beginning of 2018, the UIA got the first Boeing 777-200ER aircraft in Ukraine, which received the registration number UR-GOA. In total, in 2018, the UIA fleet was replenished with three aircraft of this type with a modern 3-class cabin. This has significantly improved the quality of long-haul flights, especially for business class passengers.
- On November 16, 2018, the airline carried a 50 million passenger. It was a young Michael Osipchuk, who went from Kyiv to Paris on flight PS127.
- During the corona crisis of 2020, UIA managed to withstand in the lack of any support from the state solely through management decisions: operation of a number of evacuation, humanitarian and cargo flights, redistribution of financial pressure on expenditures, staff reductions, transfer of a significant part of the team to remote work, etc. These are the strategic steps provided UIA with the opportunity to compete in the aviation market despite losses of about $ 60 million caused by the 2020 pandemic crisis.
- With the beginning of a full-scale military invasion of russia on the territory of Ukraine in 2022 and the closure of the airspace of Ukraine for civil aviation, UIA suspended the performance of regular and charter flights to/from the territory of Ukraine. To maintain operational activity in the conditions of martial law and ensure its contribution to the economic stability of Ukraine, the airline, as a long-term certified operator of IOSA, successfully implemented projects for the operational performance of UIA aircraft outside Ukraine for charter and humanitarian flights and "wet leasing" cooperation.
- On November 25, 2022, UIA celebrated the 30th anniversary of its first flight on the Kyiv-London-Kyiv route. For over 30 years of its activity, UIA transported 60,332,275 passengers and performed 555,869 regular and charter flights.
- UIA is the only one airline in the Ukrainian market that primarily develops regular passenger air transportation, thus being part of Ukraine's transport infrastructure.