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Twenty Years in Flight
Ukraine International Airlines (UIA), one of the two main airline companies of Ukraine, was founded twenty years ago, soon after Ukraine’s independence.
Yevhen BUDKO, Mizhnarodny Turyzm senior editor, has recently interviewed Yury Miroshnykov, UIA president courtesy of UIA
In his young years, Yury Miroshnykov built and launched little model planes. Now his UIA stable has 20 Boeing airliners. UIA and its president are planning to introduce sweeping changes which are designed to impact the development of civil aviation of Ukraine.
— Mr Miroshnykov, did you celebrate the twentieth anniversary of your company?
— Of course, we did! Compared to all sorts of celebrations we had in the past, when we rented the National Opera or the Ukrayina Palats concert hall, this time it was less pompous but more of a friends’ get-together kind. We had a good party — we enjoyed a concert and cocktail party, we talked and reminisced. We gathered about two thousand people, about two thirds of whom were UIA employees and the rest were our partners and other guests. We invited people from the Boeing company, from CFM, a well-known producer of airplane engines. UIA representatives and agents abroad were also there. We did have a good time. And the next day we plunged into work — there is always a lot of work to do, you know.
— What does the working day of the UIA president look like?
There is a lot of organizational work to do for the president of such a company. Unfortunately, it is mostly with papers that I have to deal rather than directly with people. But all sorts of meetings also take a lot of time. A lot of planning is to be done too. One of our top priorities is to provide safety and security of flights. Our efforts are preemptive — we take appropriate measures not after something happens, but we take measures to prevent any accidents. And we do it every day, at all the levels of the company. We take care of all the things that are connected with the safety of flights: flight planning with minutest details taken into consideration: financing, personnel, commercial activities, working hours — you name it. Some people may think that the main thing for flight attendants and air hostesses is to learn to smile nicely. Not really— their main job is to contribute to the safety of flights.
— What does it take to become president of an airline?
— Specialized education — though I do not think there are universities in which you can major in airlines presidents. I graduated from the Institute of Civil Aviation Engineering in Kyiv — now it is called the National Aviation University.
You have to have experience of working in various sectors and departments of civil aviation before you get promoted to president. And I did have such experience. My first job at Boryspil Airport (central airport of Kyiv) was connected with the maintenance of the electric network of the control tower. I progressed from one stage to another — and I was always eager to learn whatever was necessary for doing my job well. I also gained an experience of assuming responsibilities.
— How long have you been working for UIA?
— Nineteen years altogether. And for the past eight years I’ve been UIA president.
— So you must remember the early years of UIA.
— I sure do. It was the romantic time — Ukraine began to develop as an independent state, and there was so much to be done.
— Ukraine had had its aviation industry long before it went independent, but as a part of the Soviet Union, all the major things and plans of development were decided in Moscow. When after 1991, the year of independence, Ukraine appeared on the world aviation market, it had no experience in commercial activities and international relations, even though we had many years of solid experience in building planes and airplane maintenance. So, a lot of things had to be developed from scratch. It was hellishly difficult to do — but highly exciting and interesting.
The creation of UIA early in Ukraine’s independence proved the right thing to do. It made it possible for us to start developing civil aviation in accordance with the world standards, and in this we were ahead of some other post-soviet countries.
At the early stages of the UIA development, I worked in a state aviation department and I took part in developing a system of international agreements between various states that dealt with civil aviation. I did not work in UIA from the very first days of its existence but I was among those who promoted its creation and development. I’m proud that things did get off to a good start. UIA managed to get itself established at the European aviation market— a very competitive market, with the highest possible standards.
Now UIA is going through a new stage of its development. From focusing on destinations in Western Europe, we are moving on to a transit phase in our development, with Kyiv being the hub in connecting the West and the East.
Coordination of efforts is a major difficulty. Boryspil Airport should remain our central airport and the basic aviation and financial structures will remain as important but the status of a hub will provide new jobs and new revenues from transit passengers. Our services will be improved and it will attract more tourists.
Boryspil Airport will not be able to do without such a company as ours because foreign aviation carriers, particularly low-cost carriers, are not interested in developing Boryspil as a transit hub.
The aviation market of Ukraine has grown by ten percent in 2012 — but UIA has grown by twenty five percent. UIA services attract passengers from third countries and we carry them across Ukraine and further on.
— What’s UIA status now?
— We are a key player at the air traffic market of Ukraine. We fly to foreign destinations from Kyiv and to destinations in Ukraine such as Dnipropetrovsk, Donetsk, Lviv, Ivano-Frankivsk, Kharkiv and Simferopol. UIA flight routes extend practically all over Europe. We fly to many destinations in the post-soviet countries. Through partners, we can take passengers to the USA in the West and to Thailand in the East. In the first ten months of 2012 we flew two and a half million passengers to various destinations, with transit passengers on our regular flights constituting almost forty percent.
UIA has eleven partners in air traffic and we have signed interline agreements with about a hundred and fifty air carriers.
— How many passengers has UIA provided services for in its twenty years of existence?
— Over sixteen million passengers, with almost three million in 2012 alone. It shows that passengers trust UIA. At the start of its work, UIA had only two planes but even then UIA could fly up to 115,000 passengers a year.
— What is your attitude to low-cost flying?
—It’s a competitive model of work for classical network companies. One can make money using this model but… The top manager of one of the low-cost air companies was reported to have said, “We hate our passengers but they do not pay us for loving them.”
And we love our passengers — and not because they pay exorbitant fares (in fact, our prices are not high compared to our expenditures). It’s part of our culture. We are thankful to our passengers for making it possible for us to create new jobs, and we do our best to make the flights enjoyable. The air passengers should be exposed to experiences very much different from those one gets when riding a local bus.
— Did the passengers benefit in any way from UIA marking its twentieth anniversary?
—Yes, they did. On that day, we greeted passengers by serving champagne at booking offices and on the planes. We also introduced twenty percent discounts for our regular flights. Participants of our Panorama Club loyalty program had their accumulated miles doubled. We organized all sorts of presentations and contests and other things at UIA web-site. Our in-flight magazine Panorama and Internet social networks were also involved.
— Are there Ukrainian tourist companies among your partners?
—Of course! And quite a few of them! Among our partners are over 270 tourist companies and that includes practically all the tourist companies accredited in Ukraine by the International Air Transport Association (IATA). UIA performed over 4,000 charter flights in the first ten months of 2012. We also carry groups of tourists on our regular flights. It’s more expensive but safer for smaller tourist companies.
Tourism is “a staple food” of aviation! We are thankful to tourist companies for cooperation but we want to see many more tourists coming to Ukraine from abroad. We are ready for an influx of foreign tourists. It is more difficult to bring in foreign tourists than to send local tourists abroad — but without incoming tourism, the Ukrainian tourist business may find itself in a very tough situation.
— What are, in your opinion, the main UIA achievements?
—We were the first in starting and developing many things. We were the first in Ukraine to start flying Boeing airliners and we were the first to introduce the world standards in services. We were the first to start publishing an in-flight magazine. We were the first to become members of the International Air Transport Association (IATA). We were the first to pass successfully the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) audit. We were the first to launch the passengers’ loyalty program Panorama Club. We were the first to launch an official web-site, to introduce electronic tickets. We were the first to introduce the full maintenance of Boeing airliners at Boryspil Airport.
We’ve always been motivated by the ideas of integration into Europe.
The professionalism and integrity of UIA as a company is probably our main achievement. UIA has about a hundred employees when it was founded and now we employ over 1,500 people. I think they appreciate working for UIA — we provide social and financial benefits, we provide opportunities for training. Initiative and company spirit are our main assets.
Dmytro Kiva, a representative of the Antonov Aeronautical Scientific and Technical Complex, presents an award to Yury Miroshnykov, UIA president.
A certificate of appreciation is handed by Heorhiy Pyvovarov, Minister of the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine.