An Airbus A320 owned by the European low-cost carrier Wizz Air flew at just 10,000 feet as it flew across the Ukrainian border into Poland earlier this week. The aircraft had been trapped in Ukraine since the start of the Russian invasion and had not been flown since February.
As well as maintaining a low altitude throughout the flight, the pilots of the nine-year-old aircraft allegedly kept the plane’s transponder switched off until they had successfully made it into Polish air space.
The aircraft, which is registered as HA-LWS, was delivered new to the Hungarian-based Wizz Air in 2013 and was based in the Ukrainian city of Lviv. Wizz Air was the only foreign airline to have aircraft based in Ukraine when the war broke out, and it didn’t have enough time to extract all of its aircraft or staff.
As well as HA-LWS in Lviv, Wizz Air also had three aircraft parked in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv when Russian troops began the invasion.
The three aircraft in Kyiv remain trapped, and Wizz Air has not provided any further information about the rescue mission.
Wizz Air chief executive József Váradi said in an interview earlier this year that the airline had been caught off guard by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine because the airline never “really believed that there could be any serious development”.
Contingency plans had, however, been developed to evacuate staff and aircraft from Ukraine should war break out, but those plans worked on the assumption that the airline would have at least three hours to activate its emergency plans.
Instead, Váradi and other senior managers were informed by a source at the EU Commission that Ukraine had been invaded at three in the morning and only after troops had already crossed the border.
It was already too late for Wizz Air to get staff or equipment out of Ukraine.
Váradi says the airline hired security contractors to help evacuate Ukrainian employees out of the country, but the airline’s multi-million-dollar aircraft couldn’t be so easily extracted.
Wizz Air has failed to say how it managed to obtain permission to get its aircraft out of Lviv or how it might get its other planes out of Kyiv.
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.