Aegean airlines flight A3 880 headed to Moscow was ordered to return to Athens yesterday following the announcement by the Ukraine government that it had closed its airspace to civilian flights after Russia launched an attack on the eastern part of the country on Thursday.
Later on Thursday, Greece issued an aviation directive banning all passenger flights from flying in Ukraine airspace for the next three months, until May.
In its NOTAM, the Hellenic Civil Aviation Authority (HCAA) said that all civil aircraft are strongly recommended to avoid the airspace on the Ukrainian-Russian border.
At the same time, dozens of foreign airlines have suspended Ukraine flights.
“The presence and possible use of a wide range of ground and airborne warfare systems poses a high risk for civil flights operating at all altitudes and flight levels,” the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) said, outlining that Ukraine’s skies and airspace in Russia and Belarus within 100 nautical miles of borders with Ukraine could pose risks.
“In particular, there is a risk of both intentional targeting and misidentification of civil aircraft,” the EASA said.
The EASA a later update on a broader area of Russian airspace, advising airlines to “exercise caution” when flying in air traffic regions controlled from Moscow or Rostov-on-Don.
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration expanded an area in or near Ukraine where U.S. airlines cannot operate.
Heightened notice of the risks conflicts pose to civil aviation has been taken by the aviation industry since Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine in 2014.
EASA said Russia’s defence ministry had sent Ukraine an urgent message warning of a high risk to flight safety due to the use of weapons and military equipment, and asked Ukraine’s air traffic control to stop flights.
Websites, which had shown multiple intelligence-gathering flights over or near Ukraine before the escalation as the West showcased support by transmitting detectable signals in recent weeks, showed empty space as civil flights halted and analysts said any military flights went dark.
Airlines skirted the whole country in crowded corridors to the north and west, leaving a hole in the aviation map.
An El Al flight from Tel Aviv to Toronto made a U-turn out of Ukraine’s airspace around the time of its closure, the tracking website FlightRadar24 showed.
A LOT Polish Airlines flight from Warsaw to Kyiv turned back, as did Kyiv-bound flights operated by Air India and Aegean Airlines
Greece National Security Council Meeting
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis convened a National Security Council (KYSEA) meeting to examine the consequences of the Russian invasion and the imminent rise in energy prices.
“Russia’s attack on Ukraine dramatically puts the global community in front of its responsibilities. As a member of the EU and of NATO, we are coordinating with our partners so that our reaction is collective, but also corresponding to the unprecedented Russian provocation,” said Mitsotakis.
Speaking to public television ERT, Tourism Minister Vassilis Kikilias expressed great concern, saying that he hoped a diplomatic solution would be found.
Kikilias said that although too early to assess the potential impact the Russia-Ukraine crisis may have on the tourism sector, the resulting increased energy costs would affect travel and the tourism industry, while simultaneously leading to a humanitarian crisis in Ukraine that will affect all of Europe.
“Clearly these developments affect global stability, as did the pandemic. We are still far from assessing the extent to which this will affect the tourism industry,” Kikilias said.