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Rzeszów: How a small Polish airport became the gateway to Ukraine

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  • Rzeszów–Jasionka Airport is now the essential gateway for people and supplies entering Ukraine.
  • Who are the most frequent military, VIP, and cargo users of the airport?
  • Which aircraft types have we seen at Rzeszów most frequently since the invasion began?

Located around 60 miles (96.5 kilometers) from the Ukrainian border in south east Poland, Rzeszów Airport has become an essential hub for movement of weapons, medical supplies and people in and out of Ukraine. We used Flightradar24 data to take a look at the seismic changes in operators, aircraft types and traffic using the small airport since the beginning of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Passenger flights at Rzeszów began in 1945, with commercial traffic beginning in earnest in 1949. In more recent times, the airport has seen seasonal services to North America as well as the establishment of scheduled operations from airlines including RyanairWizz AirLufthansa and LOT Polish Airlines. Rzeszów handled around 100 passenger flights per week in the summer of 2021 as the industry recovered from the Covid-19 pandemic. 

What’s happened to traffic at Rzeszów since the start of the war?

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 changed it all, and the seismic increase in flights arriving and departing Rzeszów cannot be understated. Overall, the average number of weekly aircraft movements has increased approximately 167% since the onset of the war. From day one we saw notable spikes in passenger, cargo, and business jet traffic, but the most significant change in the first few weeks was the spike in military traffic. We actually witnessed a slight increase in military movements in the week before the invasion, but the real changes began alongside the invasion.

A graph showing the trend in all flights to and from Rzezow airport in Poland since January 2022

The initial spike in military traffic in the first week of the invasion correlated with the earliest deliveries of military aid, such as the UK’s delivery of NLAW and Javelin missiles in late February. These initial flights were conducted mostly by the United States Air Force, United States Army, and the air forces of the United Kingdom and Italy. Whilst we can correlate some spikes in traffic with agreed weapons deliveries, it’s important to realize that many European countries will send heavy equipment by rail and that medical supplies may be arriving on the increasingly common civilian cargo flights.

Who are the top military and government operators at Rzeszów and which aircraft are they using?

US military forces make up 25% of total military traffic at Rzeszów, followed by the Air Forces of the United Kingdom, Italy, Canada and France. 

A pie chart showing which Military operators are flying in and out of Rzeszów airport in poland

Looking at aircraft types, the heavy lifters have proven firm favorites with the C17 Globemaster, A400M Atlas, and C130 Hercules leading the way. Also making a notable appearance in the first 4 months of the conflict was the Boeing KC767. As tanker and transport aircraft, we can infer that both the A330 and 767 aircraft may have been supporting increased NATO aerial activity in the area as well as passenger and cargo duties. 

a bar graph showing the trends in types of military aircraft flying to Rzezow airport in Poland

It’s notable that whilst safely inside NATO borders, security is still a concern at Rzeszów, with US forces installing two Patriot air defense systems at the airport in March 2022. 

What about cargo airlines?

Rzeszów is ideally suited for cargo and military movements thanks to a 3,200 meter runway and reliable freight handling facilities. As such a large number of civilian cargo operators have stepped in to bring supplies to RZE for onward travel to Ukraine.

A line graph showing trends in cargo flights at Rzezow airport in Poland

The boom in cargo operations at Rzeszów has led to a renaissance of Boeing 747 operations in the area, with Kalitta Air and Atlas Air regularly deploying its older 747-400 series freighters. Purpose-built -400 series freighters feature a nose loading door which makes them ideal for offloading outsized cargo. Additionally vital has been the Antonov Airlines AN-124s, which have seen a steady stream of activity since the start of the conflict.

a bar graph detailing the different cargo airlines flying to rzezow airport in Poland

What’s happening with private flights at Rzeszów?

The number of business jets and private aircraft using Rzeszów has also significantly increased since the invasion began. In terms of jets, we have seen notably increased deployment of the Cessna Citation (C560), Gulfstream V (GLF5) and Dassault Falcon 900 (F900). Whilst the general perception is that private aircraft are usually transporting high net worth individuals, a deeper dive reveals that some of these flights were operated by Air Ambulances evacuating the wounded. The most notable type performing such duties is the Beech 100 King Air (BE10) turboprop, which can typically carry 1-2 patients in a medical configuration. These aircraft prove popular as private ambulances thanks to their low operating cost and short field performance.

A line graph showing the number of private jet flights arriving and departing rzezow airport in poland

How has the war in Ukraine changed Rzeszów airport?

It seems clear that Rzeszów will remain the gateway to Ukraine for the near future. Western nations have shown no signs of wavering their commitment to supplying Ukraine with desperately needed supplies, and no other airport is so ideally suited for handling large volumes of military and cargo traffic so close to the Ukrainian border. 

As well as being good news for Ukraine, these continued spikes in regular traffic are likely to benefit Rzeszów airport’s revenue. By extension, this is likely to benefit the local community and provide job opportunities at the airport.

Whether the increased military use of the airport will impact leisure and tourism traffic remains to be seen. Whilst there may be reticence amongst some travelers to visit a city that is only 60 miles from the conflict zone, passenger traffic appears to be remaining steady. As well as scheduled services from Ryanair, LOT Polish Airlines and Lufthansa, new routes are being opened in 2023. LOT is commencing flights to Gdansk from June 2, and Wizz Air will commence a service to Rome Fiumicino from June 7. 

Military, Cargo and VIP aircraft operating to and from Rzeszów are frequently amongst the most tracked flights on Flightradar24. You can easily view our most tracked flights in the top right of the Flightradar24 website, or by swiping down from the top search bar on the mobile app. 

A screenshot of the flightradar24 app showing an aircraft's flight path

What do you think will happen to military and commercial traffic at Rzeszów in the coming year? Share your views on twitter, Facebook or Instagram @Flightradar24.

Cover image by Łukasz Stawiarz, Jetphotos

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