Ryanair has a problem: flights are longer because airline avoids Belarus airspace

It is Sunday, December 16th, 2019. It is 13:00 local time now in the Baltics. 

Half hour ago two aircraft departed Vilnius to the same destination – Kiev Borispyl airport. It’s two competing airlines: Ukraine International Airlines and Ryanair operating same type of the aircraft – Boeing 737-800.

Ukraine International Airlines flight PS178 VNO-KBP departed Kiev in South East direction what is close to straight line towards largest airport of Ukraine. 

This is regular path of Ukraine International flight PS178 from Vilnius to Borispyl airport.

It is different with Ryanair flight FR3084 VNO-KBP. After take-off from Vilnius airport Ryanair pilots headed west before they took heading towards south and being far in cruising altitude they turned left towards east. The reason of non-straight path – Ryanair aircraft is avoiding Belarus airspace. 

According to flightradar24 data, average flight time of PS178 VNO-KBP flight is 1 hour and 4 minutes. Average flight time of FR3084 is 1 hour and 29 minutes. On every rotation Ryanair spends 39% more in the air than Ukraine International operating same route on aircraft of the same type. 

Extra 25 minutes onboard is small inconvenience for passengers, but its substantial extra cost for airline, especially when they need to compete head to head with Ukrainian competitor who are doing really well in terms of costs due to lower labor costs in Ukraine. 

I noticed, all Ryanair flights are avoiding Belarus airspace. But Ryanair is not flying many routes in this part of Europe (especially North to South) so this act of avoidance is not that visible. 

Ryanair started serving Ukraine in October 2018 only. Largest ultra low cost airline in Europe started 10 routes from Kiev Borispyl airport to Barcelona, Bratislava, Gdansk, Krakow, London Stansted, Poznan, Stockholm, Vilnius, Warsaw and Wroclaw and 5 new Lviv routes to Dusseldorf, Krakow, London Stansted, Memmingen and Warsaw.

Direct route from Vilnius to Kiev crosses Belarus airspace in full extent if to to go straight. It is close to two months Ryanair operating this route all sectors so far operated avoiding Belarus airspace. 

Why Ryanair is avoiding Belarus airspace? Is it just to be able to sell more drinks and lottery tickets inflight? Good, no – fuel bill is way larger for this half an hour extra flight. I raised this question on my Twitter month ago and the best comment I received saying this is related to Irish Financial Act 1992 under which the government has prohibited transactions with Belarus. This act is mentioned in Ryanair financial reports saying this has impact for Ryanair business. 

This is crazy. Ryanair is not flying even to Belarus its just crossing its airspace: going straight could help reduce costs and save CO2. I do believe Irish Acts prohibits do financial transactions meaning Ryanair will not be able to pay for air navigation services. 

If avoidance of Belarus airspace will continue, this will become more and more problem for Ryanair with expansion in East Europe. 

Ukraine International Airlines started serving Vilnius in March 2013 just after bankruptcy of another Ukrainian carrier Aerosvit who served this route before. Started as daily rotation, later Ukraine International increased number of flights to 14-17x weekly.

Traffic between Vilnius and Kiev is booming last years.

In 10 months of 2018, 184K passengers were flying on Vilnius to Kiev route

Traffic boosted since 2015, when first LCC entered route: Wizz Air started flights between Vilnius and Kiev Zhuliany airport. Still, Wizz Air is not leader. In 10 months of 2018, Wizz Air served 39 408 passengers: this is 21% of total traffic on the route. Ukraine International is taking bigger part of the traffic also serving connecting passengers from Vilnius via Kiev to Tbilisi, Tel Aviv, Dubai, Bangkok, Istanbul, Baku, Yerevan and other destinations.

After Ryanair started flights in October 2018 with 3 weekly flights, another boost in the traffic is expected. 

By the way, Wizz Air is flying via Belarus airspace with average flight time VNO-IEV under one hour.

Wizz Air is flying directly from Vilnius to Kiev Zhuliany airport
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