July 22--RIYADH -- Several Gulf airlines, which have either suspended flights to Ukraine or reduced their frequency, have expressed serious concerns over the safety of passengers flying to destinations in and around Ukraine.
"Some passengers bound for the Ukrainian capital have canceled their bookings following the shooting of the Malaysia Airlines plane as it flew over the conflict zone in the Ukraine-Russia border on July 17," said P. Emanuel, a local travel agent, on Monday.
Major carriers which have suspended their flights to Kiev indefinitely include Dubai-based Emirates Airlines and Qatar Airways.
Flydubai has also canceled its operation to Kharkiv, while it is still flying to the Ukrainian capital Kiev.
"The suspension of flights, caused mainly because of security concerns, will hamper travel plans of regular passengers from Gulf countries," said Emanuel.
Many passengers, especially tourists, opt not to fly to troubled destinations like Ukraine, Syria or Iraq, he noted.
Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia, are home to thousands of Ukrainians. A large number of Gulf nationals also travel for business and tourism to Ukraine, which shares borders with Russia.
Parts of the country are controlled by pro-Russian rebels. Belarus, Poland, Slovakia, Romania and Moldova are other nations bordering Ukraine.
"There are currently no direct flights to Kiev from Riyadh, but Emirates, Air Arabia, Royal Jordanian Airlines and Turkish Air fly to Kiev via Dubai, Sharjah, Amman and Istanbul respectively," said Vasyl Bodnar, Ukraine Embassy spokesman, who flies to Kiev from Riyadh during holidays. Ukraine and its four diplomatic missions in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and the UAE further add and promote tourist and business traffic.
Farid Siddiqui, another travel agent, said: "The MH17 disaster will affect air traffic, as all airline companies are worried about flying over the conflict zone."
"Insecurities over Ukrainian airspace are concerns for everyone: for us, for passengers and for airline companies," he said.
He said that Germany's Lufthansa has also rerouted trips to avoid eastern Ukraine, although flights to Kiev and Odessa are unaffected.
Qatar Airways has said that "it will not fly over Ukrainian territory until further notice." Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines said that it would stop flying over any part of the country.
India's aviation agency said Air India and Jet Airways would also avoid Ukraine. Australia's Qantas stopped flying over Ukraine several months ago and shifted its London-Dubai route 645 km (400 miles) to the south.
A spokeswoman declined to explain the change of route. Korean Air said it rerouted cargo and passenger flights in early March as the situation in Crimea deteriorated. According to a statement released by the Malaysia Airlines, there were 150 international flights a day traversing Ukraine airspace until the MH17 perished.
Copyright 2014 - Arab News, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia