October 26, 2015 / 2:17 PM / 3 years ago

Ukraine-Russia flight ban seen lasting for some time

MOSCOW/KIEV (Reuters) - Direct flights between Russia and Ukraine are unlikely to restart any time soon, people familiar with the matter said on Monday, after links were severed in a tit-for-tat row over Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

Direct air services between the one-time allies ceased on Sunday, a new low for commercial relations between the two neighbors, who have been locked in a bitter standoff since a pro-European uprising in Kiev and the annexation by Russia of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula in 2014.

“It’s unlikely the ban can be canceled now,” said one source familiar with negotiations over ending flights. “As far as I know, no new talks are planned.”

Kiev initiated the spat last month when it sanctioned Russian airlines, including flagship carrier Aeroflot, to punish them for flying to Crimea. Moscow criticized the move as an “another act of madness” and responded by closing Russian airspace to Ukrainian airlines.

Talks on Friday between Russia and Ukraine, held in Brussels, ended without the kind of agreement needed for flights to continue, Russia’s aviation watchdog, Rosaviation, said in a statement.

A spokeswoman for Ukraine’s infrastructure ministry confirmed that no further negotiations about flights with Russia were scheduled.

The loss of ticket sales - around 657,000 passengers flew between Ukraine and Russia in the first half of 2015 - will hit the bottom-line of both countries’ airlines, some of which have already posted losses for parts of this year.

“We expect the ban will stay in place for the duration of the winter season at least,” said Ukrainian Airlines spokeswoman Evgeniya Satskaya, adding that the season ran until the last Sunday in March 2016.

The airline estimates it could lose up to $6 million in revenue as a result of the ban over this period, she said, adding that the company hoped it could recoup some losses by increasing passenger turnover on other flights.

Airlines from nearby countries such as Belarus, Moldova and the Baltic States, stand to benefit from the end of direct flights as passengers wishing to fly between Russia and Ukraine will have to use transit flights.

A spokesman for Belarussian operator Belavia said they had already noticed a rise in passenger turnover to Kiev and that they had introduced a new route from Minsk to the southern Ukrainian port city of Odessa on Sunday.

Russia’s Aeroflot reported a net loss of $53.45 million in the first half of 2015.

Ukrainian Airlines posted operating profit of $12.5 million in the first nine months of this year, after reporting a loss of over $55 million in 2014.

Ukraine has accused Russia of sending arms and troops to help pro-Moscow separatists fighting its soldiers in the east of the country, in a conflict which has killed nearly 8,000 people since April 2014. Russia denies involvement.

Writing by Alessandra Prentice; Editing by Andrew Osborn

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