A question about his possible celebrity status is quickly shot down by Yuriy Miroshnikov. “I hate this sort of thing, I am not a celebrity. I am a public person, simply because I have a position. The next day I could be fired and people will forget me.” His response is indicative of his persona – he is a man who has steered UIA through post independence chaos and global financial crisis with aplomb and with his mind focused strictly on business. Now that airline is experiencing unprecedented growth and is increasingly becoming a force on the global aviation market.
Learning To Fly
As Miroshnikov tells it, UIA started with Ukraine’s independence. Airline services in the Soviet UNI0N were concentrated in Moscow, the network and the management via the Ministry of Civil Aviation of the USSR, which produced Aeroflot. Aeroflot was an entity combining aviation authorities with the country’s one and only airline, airports and air traffic control, as well as aviation universities. When he graduated from the Kyiv Institute of Civil Aviation Engineers, it too was part of the huge infrastructure called Aeroflot.
Following independence, Ukraine had to start from scratch with air service agreements with other countries, then IATA (International Air Transport Association) and ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organisation) designators to operate. “It happened quickly – one year from Ukraine gaining independence. On 25 November 1992, Air Ukraine International (its original name) operated its first flight,” Miroshnikov says.
Air Ukraine International began with two Boeing 737-400 aircraft. It was created for international flights as a subsidiary of the state-owned Air Ukraine, which was the civil aviation authority of Ukraine, governing airlines, airports, and traffic control. The state found a partner in the biggest, at that time, aircraft leasing company in the world, Ireland's GPA (Guinness Peat Aviation). They provided the 737-400s, along with training and establishing international standards.
Later, when Air Ukraine became an airline and it was separated from the state aviation authorities, airports too were separated and a separate legal entity was created for air traffic control. A split occurred between Air Ukraine and Air Ukraine International as a subsidiary: “The management of Air Ukraine didn’t want to develop our airline. As a resolution, in 1995–1996, our airline was re-registered and the now well-known name Ukraine International Airlines was established together with a new logo.”
Miroshnikov says the beginning of UIA was a time of enthusiasm. It was expected that development would be fast, however UIA was supposed to make the most of the network operated by Air Ukraine, he says.
“Air Ukraine used Soviet equipment on basic services. However UIA had to look further because of the political consequences of the Soviet UNI0N breaking down and the general economic crisis in Ukraine. For example, the lack of fuel in 1992–1993 killed the domestic transportation market for at least 10 years.”
Still, UIA subsisted through a very difficult first three to five years, when, to save the airline, the new Boeing 737-400 were replaced with older generation Boeing 737-200, to reduce expenses by leasing smaller and older aircraft. It paid off and from 1996 the airline started to grow.
Miroshnikov had joined the then Air Ukraine in 1993 after qualifying as a power engineer at the Kyiv Institute of Civil Aviation Engineers. He then cut his teeth in aviation working for six-and-a-half years at the Boryspil united air detachment of Aeroflot – the name and status of Boryspil airport in the air traffic control centre, which is now separate from both airport and airlines. “When I worked in the airport I understood its structure, how it works, what sorts of divisions there are,” he says. “Between the airport and UIA, I had 11 months working in the newly created State Civil Aviation Administration of Ukraine, in the international division, which dealt with air services agreements.”
Shortly after, he was invited to join the UIA team. “My first year was in the position of the Assistant to President and the Secretary to the Board and Management, not unlike a corporate secretary for the company, which gave me a lot of experience. I was appointed the position of Vice President Commercial; however I remained corporate secretary, so again this position allowed me to understand all elements of how the airline worked.”
Building a Western style airline from a Soviet model was not without challenges, and Miroshnikov cites airports as an example. “Soviet airports were not designed to earn revenues from shops and cafés, they were just transport hubs, and the design and architecture of the terminals reflected that.”
East Meets Western Standards
The Soviet legacy, in part, continues, he says. In Ukraine, even in newly built airports, the non-aviation revenue is not more than 10 –20%, while in western airports it’s up to 80%. “This is a problem we’re still experiencing as a legacy of the old system. However, the infrastructure is improving.”
Despite the Soviet hangover, UIA continues to make ground and this year doubled the number of aircraft from 19 to 37, and Miroshnikov cites it as the airline’s most challenging. “There are plenty of milestones – we were pioneers in a lot of fields in Ukrainian aviation. The year 2007 was the most successful, the year 2013 the most intense. We currently employ almost 2,000 people – who manage to deal with a huge amount of work and cope with an untold number of challenges.”
That development is a long way from the beginnings of the airline, which has just carried its 20 millionth passenger, Miroshniokov says. “In our first year, we transported 105,000 passengers. Now, 20 years later, we do more than that in one week. In our highest months like July and August, it’s 700,000 passengers per month. Next year we plan to carry 5.5 million passengers. Twenty million passengers in 21 years, now we expect to have 20 million more passengers in three to four years.”
UIA plans to continue its expansion. In December, UIA will start operating three flights a week to Bangkok, and plans to start flying to China, the US and Canada in spring and summer 2014. Along with flight expansion is an increase in UIA’s fleet and renewing medium range planes with new generation aircraft, Miroshnikov says.
That does not mean he is not remaining grounded – he also has his sights on improving the experience for passengers at Boryspil International Airport. “I hope together with Boryspil, we will improve connecting times and transit facilities. In Boryspil, connecting time for international passengers is about 50 minutes, while in European airports it takes as little as 30 minutes. There is a lot of work to be done from both sides – airport and airline.”
Not surprisingly, Miroshnokov’s down-time is rare, he admits. “When I have free time, which isn’t often, I enjoy travelling. Recently, I’ve taken up golf. Anywhere else I am still thinking about business, but with golf somehow you are unable to, you think only about the game. Call it my weakness, but I’m bad at relaxing.”
by Paul Niland and Jared Morgan