- Andras Soos/Reuters
- A Boeing 737-800 operated by Ukraine International Airlines crashed shortly after takeoff from Tehran Imam Khomeini International Airport in Iran.
- Ukraine International Airlines is the 28-year old flag carrier of Ukraine.
- The airline serves numerous Middle Eastern destinations from Kyiv with a fleet consisting mostly of Boeing aircraft.
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The first major aircraft accident of the new year occurred Wednesday as a Boeing 737-800 of Ukraine International Airlines Flight PS752 on route to Kyiv burst into flames and crashed shortly after takeoff in Tehran, Iran, killing all 176 passengers and crew on board.
The cause is still being investigated. Until this point, the airline had been serving Tehran since 2014 without incident, with the service proving to be a popular connection between the West and Iran.
Operating from its main base in Kyiv, the Ukrainian flag carrier utilizes the capital city’s strategic location in Eastern Europe between the West, the Middle East, and Central Asia, to offer connections from North America. The Ukrainian government has also stated its desire to make Kyiv into a full-fledged intercontinental hub, the Centre for Aviation has reported.
Here’s what you need to know about Ukraine International Airlines.
Ukraine International Airlines was formed in 1992, one year after the fall of the Soviet Union.
The airline was formed as a partnership between the new country’s aviation regulatory body, the Ukrainian State Association of Civil Aviation, and what is now AerCap, an aircraft leaser, according to the airline’s website.
When it was launched, the airline was in direct competition with Air Ukraine, the state-owned flag carrier of the newly-independent country founded around the time, according to AeroTransport Data Bank.
While UIA aligned itself more with the West, as seen with its early adoption of American-made Boeing aircraft, Air Ukraine kept its Russian ties with a fleet of aircraft built in the former Soviet Union, as fleet data suggests.
Following the collapse of its competitors, Air Ukraine followed by Aerosvit, the airline found itself to be the last man standing in Ukraine.
- Viviane Moos/Getty
In 2014, the airline greatly expanded its route from Kyiv to fill the void left by Aerosvit, once Ukraine’s largest carrier. Routes to Europe, Central Asia, and the Middle East were added, most of which the airline still operates today, and helped solidify its presence in the market.
This was also the turning point for the carrier as it realized the point-to-point model it wanted to operate wouldn’t be viable. With the collapse of its competitor, the airline notes, Ukraine International was able to adopt a hub-and-spoke model from Kyiv, making it into the airline it is today.
As the airline grew, as did its fleet. It currently has 42 aircraft on hand, the airline’s website states.
- Getty/Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto
Ukraine International’s fleet consists of only five aircraft types: the Embraer E190, Embraer E195, Boeing 767-300ER, Boeing 777-200ER and Boeing 737-800.
Like many European flag carriers, the goal of Ukraine International Airlines isn’t just to connect Ukraine with the world, but also connect the world through Ukraine.
- Maxym Marusenko/Getty
A large portion of the airline’s traffic is connecting through Kyiv rather than departing from or terminating in the Ukrainian capital. The airline announced that connecting traffic for 2018 accounted for 53% of its passenger numbers.
The airline is also very active in Central Asia, the airline’s route map shows, including the Commonwealth of Independent States, providing connections to Europe, the US, and Canada.
The airline serves six Middle Eastern countries from Kyiv for a total of seven destinations in the region.
- Ben Gilbert/Business Insider
Among those served are Cyprus, United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Egypt, Israel, and Iran, with most of their respective capitals receiving service from the airline.
While once serving Amman, Jordan, the airline cut the route in 2018, the Independent reported, leaving the two capitals unconnected via a nonstop flight. The route being canceled was reportedly due to profitability issues.
One of UIA’s most popular destinations in the Middle East is Israel with the airline offering connections from Kyiv and smaller Ukrainian cities to the Jewish state.
Only two North American destinations are served by Ukraine International Airlines: New York and Toronto, both cities with large Ukrainian populations.
- Brendan McDermid/Reuters
New York became the first transatlantic destination for Ukraine International Airlines, according to the country’s foreign ministry, in 2014. Toronto became the second in 2018 with the launch of three weekly flights in June 2018, according to Routes Online.
In Canada, Ukrainian Canadians number over 140,000 in Toronto alone, according to the Canadian Encyclopedia.
UIA first launched service between Kyiv and Tehran in 2014, according to the US-Ukraine Business Council, with service three times per week on the Boeing 737 aircraft to Tehran Imam Khomeini International Airport.
The service joined a small list of connections between and Tehran and Europe.
Western airlines have historically been skeptical of serving the country following the Islamic Revolution of 1979. British Airways, which had served the country on and off since 1946, starting flying to Tehran again in 2016 only to cease services in 2018 citing security concerns, the Telegraph reported.
UIA’s Kyiv to Tehran route proved to be successful when, just over a year of operations, the airline increased its frequency on the route to up to seven times per week.
- Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto/Getty
In a press release, the airline stated: “We decided to increase the Kyiv – Tehran flight frequency in summer 2016 and offer passengers more opportunities to quickly reach Iran. We hope passenger demand will exceed our expectations.”
Ukraine International Airlines and Boeing have had a long relationship that was forged with the airline’s very first aircraft: a Boeing 737-400.
- Saul Loeb/AFP
Over the years, the aircraft has adopted additional single-aisle Boeing aircraft including the 737,200, 737-300, 737-500, and 737-900ER, in addition to the -800 variant that was involved in the accident, according to planespotters.net.
Its intercontinental expansion was also made possible with the use of widebody Boeing aircraft. The airline first turned to the Boeing 767-300ER for routes to North America including Toronto and New York, later turning to the Boeing 777-200ER which boasts greater capacity and range.
The airline also placed an order for the now-grounded Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft.
- David Ryder/Getty Images
The order of four aircraft was scheduled to begin deliveries in 2019, though that has been pushed back indefinitely due to the global grounding of the aircraft.
The airline is planning to grow its route network beyond Europe with the airline’s website stating it wants to grow to the west, east, and southeast, though it is unclear if the airline is capable of realizing that.
- Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters
Though still very limited in North America, and the airline is cutting back services in Europe, according to the Independent. Its only service to China via Beijing has also been cut.
The airline is already constrained by tensions with Russia following the annexation of Crimea. Flights operated by the carrier are forced to avoid Russian airspace as they are banned, increasing flight time to the east.
The airline has never had a fatal crash with one of its aircraft in its 28-year history, according to Aviation Safety Network, despite flying to some of the world’s most geopolitically tense regions, until now.
- Gleb Garanich/Reuters
The doomed aircraft was also reported by the airline to have had a maintenance inspection in the days leading up to the flight, however, where mechanics should have found any issue.