The European low-cost airline Wizz Air has managed to rescue one of four Airbus A320 aircraft that have been stranded in the Ukrainian Lviv ever since the start of Russia’s invasion of the country.
On Tuesday, flight tracking website FlightRadar24 followed the nine-year-old aircraft as it was flown just 356km from the western Ukrainian city of Lviv to Katowice in Poland.
Wizz Air still has three other Airbus A320 aircraft stuck in Ukraine, each worth around US $101 million at list value (although airlines rarely actually pay the advertised price and Airbus no longer publishes an official price list because discounts are so common).
The Hungary-based airline was the only non-Ukrainian airline to have aircraft based in the country when President Vladimir Putin ordered Russian troops to invade Ukraine.
Wizz Air chief executive József Váradi has admitted that the airline was caught off-guard as tanks rolled across the border in March, saying that no one at the airline “really believed that there could be any serious development”.
At the time, Váradi was taking part in a management retreat with other senior executives at a luxury resort in Austria. Váradi says a source at the European Commission called him at 3 am to break the news but by that point the chance to rescue the aircraft and staffers caught up in the conflict had already been lost.
Although Wizz Air had been preparing for the worst, the airline had based its plans on a three hour window to get aircraft and staff out of the country and to safety before an invasion actually started.
Russian forces have never tried to put troops into Lviv, but the city has come under missile attack. One of the biggest obstacles facing Wizz Air getting its aircraft out of Ukraine was the fact that the country’s airspace was closed to all civilian air traffic at the very start of the conflict.
One aircraft was stranded in Lviv (HA-LWS) which has now been rescued while three others remain on the ground in Kiev (HA-LWY, HA-LPJ, HA-LPM).
In March, the European Transport Workers Federation (ETF) slammed Wizz Air, claiming that “Wizz’s employees in Ukraine were abandoned” by the airline. The airline says it hired private military contractors to help extricate its workers from Ukraine.
In August, Wizz Air Abu Dhabi announced that it intended to restart flights to Russia but quickly abandoned the idea when its parent company came in for fierce criticism over the plans.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.