Eurocontrol, which manages air traffic across Europe, warned of a “potential hazard for civil aviation” in Ukrainian airspace on Wednesday night, diverting commercial planes from the area just hours before Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a “special military operation” in eastern Ukraine and local media reported loud explosions in the Ukrainian cities of Kyiv, Mariupol, Kramatorsk, Kharkiv, and Odesa.
After Russia appeared to launch its invasion into Ukraine, flight tracker sites showed Ukraine’s airspace completely empty of passenger flights. As Russia’s military amassed on Ukraine’s border in recent days, international airlines had started to avoid Ukrainian airspace. But at least some flights were forced to divert immediately after Eurocontrol issued its notice.
At least two from flights from Israeli carrier El Al, including one traveling from Tel Aviv to Toronto, executed U-turns shortly after entering Ukrainian airspace, according to the Wall Street Journal. A Polish Airlines flight destined for Ukrainian capital Kyiv was also rerouted back to Warsaw shortly after it took off.
On the ground, local media reported gunfire near Kyiv’s main airport of Boryspil.
Hours before Russia’s invasion, Russia also issued a series of Notices to Air Missions (NOTAMs) for civilian and commercial aircrafts to avoid flying over the eastern border region between Ukraine and Russia.
“We also recommend that air operators not enter the rest of Ukraine airspace,” Transport Canada said in response to the NOTAM.
Never miss a story: Follow your favorite topics and authors to get a personalized email with the journalism that matters most to you.