A small, low-cost Ukrainian airline could soon start flying charter flights to the United States using its fleet of single-aisle Boeing 737s after the U.S. Department of Transportation granted the airline a foreign air carrier permit using a new streamlined process.
SkyUp Airlines only applied for its foreign air carrier permit in April, but on Friday, Benjamin Taylor, the director of the office of international aviation at the DOT, ruled that it was in the public interest to grant the Kyiev-based budget carrier an air carrier permit.
The permit has been issued for SkyUp to perform charter operations for both cargo and passenger flights, although the airline hasn’t yet revealed whether it has any customers in mind.
SkyUp is a relatively new budget airline which first started flying in 2018 with its business strategy focused solely on regional short-haul operations across Europe and within Ukraine. That all changed when Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022.
The airline was forced out of its home country after Ukraine’s skies were closed to civilian air traffic, and the airline had to quickly pivot its business plan to provide charter services on behalf of other airlines in Europe and further afield.
Thankfully, in the days before Russian troops crossed the Ukraine border, SkyUp started to park its planes overnight outside of Ukraine, allowing it to quickly resume operations when Ukrainian airspace was closed.
SkyUp quickly secured several so-called ‘wetlease’ contracts (whereby the airline provides the aircraft, crew, insurance and maintenance), thereby keeping the business afloat while the war continues to rage on at home.
The ‘interim’ business strategy hasn’t, however, been all plain sailing. Earlier this year, the airline suffered yet another tragedy when operating ‘wetlease’ services on behalf of Sun Air, who had chartered SkyUp to operate flights to Sudan from Cairo, Jeddah and Riyadh.
Two of SkyUp’s Boeing 737s were parked on the ground at Khartoum Maṭār Al-Khurṭūm Al-Duwaliyy International Airport when Sudanese rebels launched an attack on the airfield on April 15. Several planes were destroyed by heavy gunfire, including, reportedly, the two SkyUp 737s.
Thirty-six of SkyUps employees were trapped in Sudan for several days as fighting intensified across Khartoum before they were evacuated across the Egyptian border. The airline suspended its contract with Sun Air following the tragedy, although SkyUp is still on the lookout for contracts with tour operators and special charter flights.
SkyUp applied for a U.S. foreign air carrier permit in April, saying in its application that the permit would give it “additional opportunities to bolster its current business plan” and that this, in turn, would “promote the resilience of Ukraine’s civil aviation sector”.
Although little known outside of Ukraine, SkyUp Airlines made global headlines in 2021 after it kitted out its flight attendants in bright orange trouser suits and comfy white sneakers.
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.