More airlines appear to have pulled back from flying over Ukraine after a U.S. warning that Russia could invade at any time, with flight insurance issues featuring in the background, and as a major European carrier announced a stop to overflights.
Monitoring of flight tracking service FlightRadar24 showed the airspace over eastern Ukraine nearly empty at 6:58 a.m. New York time on Feb. 14, with a strip of about 100 miles from the Ukraine–Russia border completely devoid of any flight traffic.
Dutch airline KLM said it would halt flights to Ukraine and through the country’s airspace, with reports that other European carriers, including Germany’s Lufthansa, are reviewing their services to the country.
While Russia has amassed about 130,000 troops, plus artillery and other heavy equipment, close to Ukraine’s border, Moscow has denied planning an attack, saying the military movements are about maintaining security against NATO aggression.
Meanwhile, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told CBS’ “Face the Nation” program on Feb. 13 that there has been a “dramatic acceleration” in the Russian troop buildup over the previous 10 days, adding that the disposition of those forces was such that they could launch a military action “essentially at any time.”
“We also are watching very carefully for the possibility that there is a pretext or a false flag operation to kick off the Russian action in which Russian intelligence services conduct some kind of attack on Russian proxy forces in eastern Ukraine or on Russian citizens, and then blame it on the Ukrainians,” Sullivan said.
As tensions run high, a flight operations advisory firm said on Feb. 14 that more airlines were likely to cut service to Ukraine.
“My guess would be that Ukraine will become unavailable pretty soon if what we’ve seen over the weekend crystallizes into a couple of more carriers actually pulling the pin,” Mark Zee, founder of flight operations advisory firm OPSGROUP, told Reuters.
“I don’t think it will be government advice that’s doing it so much as it will be insurance-based unavailability or carriers looking at other carriers. So if you have KLM, Lufthansa, and British Airways, for example, deciding not to overfly Ukraine at all, we’re almost back into an MH17 scenario.”
Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine in 2014, killing all 298 people on board.
Ukrainian insurance companies have received a notification from reinsurers that airlines weren’t covered for war risks, according to news agency Interfax Ukraine.
Vowing to keep its airspace open, Ukraine’s government on Feb. 13 announced it was allocating nearly $600 million as guarantees for insurers and leasing companies so that airlines would continue service in the country.