Ryanair Holding Plc will push further east than it has before with the carrier’s first flights from Ukraine, targeting a market it says has huge pent-up demand while heightening competition with discount rival Wizz Air Holdings Plc.
Europe’s biggest low-cost airline will begin serving the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, in October from London, Stockholm, Manchester in northern England and Eindhoven in the Netherlands, and will also fly to the western city of Lviv, Ryanair said Wednesday.
Ryanair has been expanding its network into eastern Europe and parts of the former Soviet Union as western markets become increasingly saturated. Chief Commercial Officer David O’Brien said Kiev has about three airline passengers a year per head of population compared with 15 in Dublin, where the company is based.
“There is a pretty large potential and fewer connections than there should be,” O’Brien said at a media briefing in Kiev. “Most Ukrainian traffic as far as I can see goes to Istanbul, Frankfurt or Warsaw.” Ryanair initially aims to attract 500,000 passengers a year to the new routes, he said.
The push is increasing Ryanair’s overlap with the network of Wizz, eastern Europe’s largest discount operator, though the Budapest-based company canceled about a half of its flights to Ukraine amid a recession there in 2015 linked to military conflict in the east of the country.
Ukraine is also in the final stages of obtaining visa-free travel to the European Union for its citizens, with the matter to be discussed by the European Parliament on April 5. That could lead to the adoption of the new setup by June.