A Ukrainian airline that fought to survive after Russia’s invasion of its home country and then rebuild its business by providing charter services to other airlines has suffered yet another tragedy after one of its aircraft was reportedly destroyed in Sudan on Saturday.
SkyUp Airlines, a Kyiv-based low-cost airline that successfully evacuated nearly all of its aircraft out of Ukraine before Putin launched his assault on the country, confirmed on Saturday that its staff had been caught up in yet another conflict as Sudanese rebels attempted to take control of key institutions in the capital Khartoum.
At least two people may have died at Khartoum’s Maṭār Al-Khurṭūm Al-Duwaliyy International Airport after heavily armed troops affiliated with the breakaway Rapid Support Forces stormed the terminal buildings and shelled the airfield as part of the offensive to take control of the Sudanese capital.
During the fighting, three airplanes parked on the ground at Khartoum Airport are believed to have been completely destroyed. Saudi Arabian flag carrier Saudia has already confirmed that one of its Airbus A330 was damaged by gunfire, while reports on the ground claim SkyUp lost one of two aircraft that it had in Khartoum.
The airline has not been able to confirm the status of its two aircraft, but a SkyUp spokesperson said that an Emergency Locator Transmitter (ELT)on one of the aircraft had been activated.
ELTs send out a ping to alert rescue services of the location of an aircraft following an accident – they can be activated manually by the crew, but they are also programmed to turn on automatically when in contact with water or when subjected to an extreme force (in much the same way that Apple’s new generation of Watches can call the emergency services if it detects that the wearer has been in a car crash).
Fearing the worst, the spokesperson said it was currently “impossible to determine the possible damage to the aircraft.”
“The 36 SkyUp employees, who stay in the country, are currently in relatively safe locations. We keep in touch with them,” the spokesperson added.
“Our main task now is to organize safe conditions for employees and help them leave the country as soon as possible.”
The two SkyUp aircraft in Sudan were a 19-year-old Boeing 737-800 aircraft that had flown in from Jeddah on Friday (registration: UR-SQH) and a 9-year-old 737-800 which also arrived on Friday from Cairo.
SkyUp has been operating so-called wetlease flights to Khartoum since the beginning of 2023 on behalf of Sun Air with flights to Sudan from Cairo, Jeddah and Riyadh.
The airline pivoted to wetlease operations after the Ukraine war started last February. A ‘wetlease’ is an arrangement in which one airline operates flights on behalf of another carrier and provides everything, including maintenance, insurance and crew.
Last year, SkyUp worked with ten other airlines, including Wizz Air, SmartWings and Corendon Airlines on wetlease contracts. The airline has also established charter operations in the Baltics and carried out special pilgrimage flights for Hasidic Jews.
Despite the devastating effects of the Ukraine war, SkyUp says it operated nearly 8,000 flights in 2022 and carried more than 1.08 million passengers.
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.