The story of how Oleksandr Yaroslavsky managed to secure Euro 2012 host city status for Kharkiv has long since passed into local legend. When Ukraine and Poland won the right to co-host the championships back in 2007, few regarded the capital of eastern Ukraine as a serious host city candidate. Instead, Kharkiv was placed on the reserve list behind Dnipro - another of Ukraine’s one million plus cities that already boasted a completed modern stadium and an array of infrastructure assets. Faced by this challenge, Mr. Yaroslavsky initiated an ambitious program of infrastructure modernization that eventually allowed him to convince UEFA officials to opt for Kharkiv.
The ultimate upgrade
One of the biggest obstacles the Kharkiv Euro 2012 bid faced was the absence of a modern international airport. Although it was the largest city in Ukraine’s industrial heartlands, mid-2000s Kharkiv was served by an airport that had seen little investment since the Soviet era. Mr. Yaroslavsky identified efforts to overhaul the city’s air transport hub as one of the keys to a successful Euro 2012 bid. In line with Ukrainian legislation governing public-private partnerships, he worked with the government to transform Kharkiv airport, investing in state-of-the-art passenger terminal facilities while the state financed construction of a new runway capable of accommodating long-haul aircraft in the Boeing 767-300ER class and large cargo craft such as the AN-124. The result was a quantum leap forward for regional air travel, bringing Kharkiv up to the latest European standards in terms of both technological capabilities and passenger service.
This upgrade did not result in the complete replacement of existing facilities. The old terminal building, which dated from 1954 and was of considerable historic value, underwent a complete renovation while maintaining its unique original facades and architectural appeal. It became the VIP terminal, benefitting from the latest technologies while retaining an iconic period charm. UEFA President Michel Platini cut the ribbon at the official opening ceremony of the revamped terminal, and it served as the point of entry for teams and UEFA officials during the tournament itself. In 2013, the airport saw the opening of the General Aviation Service, providing customs and migration support, ground support for aircraft, and a range of services for flight crews including rest space in the VIP terminal, hotel reservations, 24-hour personal assistance and more.
Post-Euro 2012 takeoff
The construction of the new terminal building, together with the reconstruction of the old terminal and additional infrastructure facilities, involved an investment of USD 107.2 million from Mr. Yaroslavsky. This represented a significant portion of the estimated USD 300 million he spent on Kharkiv’s preparations for Euro 2012. It was an investment made with a view to the long term. While many of the construction projects across Ukraine during the buildup to Euro 2012 specifically focused on the tournament itself, the summer 2012 football fiesta was just the beginning for Kharkiv International Airport. Once fully operational, the new airport facility quickly emerged as one of the fastest growing air gates in Ukraine, attracting international carriers and adding new routes at a pace that reflected its position as a hub for one of the country’s wealthiest and most economically active regions.
Record passenger growth in 2016
The crisis of 2014-15 derailed this growth trajectory, but current trends point to a strong revival. During the first eleven months of 2016, passenger numbers increased by a record 61% year-on-year. Analysts now expect Kharkiv International Airport to return to pre-crisis figures within the near future. Major international carriers are returning to Kharkiv and new airlines are seeking to add the destination to their routes.
Kharkiv International Airport’s Q3 results for 2016 earned the airport a place among Europe’s best performers in the below five million passenger category from the Airports Council International Europe (ACI Europe). A passenger traffic increase of 57.8% was sufficient to see Kharkiv become only the second Ukrainian air hub to feature in the ACI Europe rating. This strong performance in what remains a challenging geopolitical environment suggests that the current rebound is only the beginning. As Ukraine’s economic recovery continues to gain ground, the sky could well be the limit for Kharkiv International Airport.