Turkish carrier slashes Ukraine flight schedule

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When Turkish airline Atlasglobal set up a subsidiary in Ukraine a few years ago, it looked to be a promising investment project, which was supported by the Ukrainian officials.

But the carrier never fully took off in Ukraine, and less than three years after its first flight from the country, Atlasglobal has announced it will stop regular flights from Lviv, Kharkiv, and Zaporizhzhya to Istanbul starting from April 24.

However, it will continue to service charter flights to Antalya in Turkey this summer.

Tetiana Kukarina, the public relations manager for Atlasjet Ukraine, the Ukrainian subsidiary of Atlasglobal, said that the company’s management decided not to comment.

The Commission of the State Aviation Service of Ukraine also decided to revoke flight permits from Atlasglobal on 10 routes on which the airline was already not flying.

Four of them were from Ukrainian cities to Moscow and Saint Petersburg in Russia, and could not be operated due to a ban on direct flights between Ukraine and Russia that was imposed in 2015 in response to Russia starting a war in the Donbas and illegally annexing Ukraine’s Crimea a year earlier.

The commission also revoked Atlasglobal’s permits for the Kyiv-Erbil, Odesa-Tel-Aviv, Kyiv-Tbilisi, Kyiv-Milan, Lviv-Naples, and Lviv-Madrid routes. The airline never launched regular flights on them either.

Cutting regular services from Ukraine and leaving only charter flights could be a part of a wider strategic realignment at Atlasglobal.

According to the Turkish newspaper Hürriyet, the airline decided to reduce or stop some flights from Istanbul and change orientation towards Antalya and Dalaman, popular tourist destinations in southern Turkey.

“On some routes we’ve cancelled flights, while on other we’ve downsized their number,” Hürriyet cited Atlasglobal CEO Murat Ersoy as saying on April 12. As an example, he said the number of weekly flights from Istanbul, Izmir, and Adana to Northern Cyprus had been decreased from 32 to 24.

Reportedly, Atlasglobal is betting on charter flights with tourists from Russia, Kazakhstan, Germany, and Iran.

Aviation experts, however, reckon that a Ukrainian subsidiary of Atlasglobal made poor decisions and, as a result, lost out to its competitors.

Oleksandr Laneckij, the director of the Friendly Avia Support consultancy firm, said Atlasjet Ukraine failed to achieve its strategic goals of winning over Turkish passengers from its Turkish competitors Turkish Airlines and Pegasus, and to attract Ukrainian flyers to its transit flights via Istanbul.

“The airline didn’t notice or didn’t want to develop other niches. For example, routes from western Europe,” he wrote in an op-ed. “The management forgot its promises to turn Lviv into hub and grow passenger traffic of Ukrainian labor migrants and tourists from the European Union and CIS countries. As a result, this niche has been occupied by Ernest Airlines, Wizz Air, and the soon-to-come Ryanair.”

Atlasjet was registered in Lviv in 2013, long before a number of European low cost airlines entered Ukraine, but the company didn’t develop its routes to the west. Despite holding permits for a variety of routes, the company never launched any other regular flights apart from the ones to Istanbul from Lviv, Kharkiv, and Zaporizhzhya.

In 2015, Atlasjet Ukraine went to court to try to get the rights to fly from Kyiv and Odesa to Istanbul – some of the busiest and therefore lucrative routes, currently operated by market leaders Ukraine International Airline (UIA) and Turkish Airlines.

But the company lost its case in court against UIA and the State Aviation Service.

Andriy Guck, a partner at Ante law firm, which represented Atlasjet in court until 2016, says that the airline dropped its initial promises to fly non-Turkish routes and continued to demand preferential treatment. It also refused to operate a domestic Kyiv-Odesa flight, which was a condition on its obtaining other flight permits.

“Atlasjet started taking wrong decisions that ruined its initial plans and led to the loss of a successful team,” he said. “The management and key employees were fired. And the new team, in my opinion, couldn’t achieve the goals set by the investor.”

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