Tag: Beirut

Why are we still flying airline passengers over war zones?

Here’s the level of inconsistency we’ve reached in international air transport: we take each passenger, scrutinize their booking, check the no-fly-list, watch them on CCTV, pull them apart at TSA, remove anything sharper than a pen, question them, x-ray the bags, run Explosive Trace Detection tests, screen the hold baggage, background check every member of the crew, and then, once they’ve all boarded, fly this ultra-secure airplane straight into a war zone.

Welcome to the Eastern Mediterranean. It’s an active conflict zone. The Russian naval build up there this month is the largest since Moscow’s intervention in Syria began in 2015. Over Syria, 9 aircraft have been shot down this year.

The most recent was on Monday night this week, when Syria came under attack from Israel fighter jets, and started firing indiscriminately at anything off the coast that looked like a threat. They wanted to shoot something down, and they did — except it was a friend, not foe. They took out a Russian Ilyushin IL-20M transport category airplane. Even on the worst radar, that doesn’t look anything like an Israeli F-16.

50 miles away from where the Russian aircraft plunged into the sea on Monday night is the international airway UL620, busy with all the big name airline traffic heading for Beirut and Tel Aviv. If Syria can mistakenly shoot down a Russian ally aircraft, they can also take out your A320 as you cruise past.

And yet, most airlines continue to operate. Are we really so comfortable with operating in conflict zones again?

The lessons of MH17 seem to be fading fast. It’s a little over four years since 298 people lost their lives over Ukraine one summer afternoon, thanks to an errant missile fired during a civil war at an aircraft that they thought was a military threat. “Why were they over a war zone”, everyone cried afterwards.

Well, we all were. Me too. I was a pilot for Austrian Airlines at the time. I recall one morning in Vienna, some months before MH17. Boarding the last of the passengers, my BBC news app flashed up a story about a helicopter being shot down in eastern Ukraine .

As we were headed east, with my colleague in the cockpit, we quickly plotted the position on our enroute chart, and noted that it was really close to our route. Maybe 30 miles north. “We might see something interesting!”, we said, and pushed back. We didn’t, nor did we think much more about it.

Do you see the thought process though? Before MH17, we didn’t consider the risks to our aircraft from war zones. Especially being so high. Helicopters might be getting shot down, but we’re at 35,000 feet. No problem.

This is why all of these airlines — mine, at the time, included — operated on the route.


Image: Der Spiegel

And then it happened, and none of us could quite believe it.

But we learned. “Conflict Zone” became a buzzword. We had task forces and committees, whitepapers and promises, and — myself included — talked at length about how this happened, why, and how to avoid it in the future.

And yet, here we are flying unsuspecting passengers along the Syrian border. If you’re unsuspecting enough, and buy a SkyTeam codeshare ticket — you’ll actually overfly Syria on the Honey Badger airline of the region, Middle East Airlines.

Here we are flying passengers in the Eastern Mediterranean war zone. Why is this happening?

My guess: because we don’t think anything bad is going to happen, because the airspace boundary lines on the charts make that little bit of sea near Cyprus feel different from that little bit of sea near Syria, but mainly because there is no clear guidance from Aviation Authorities.

Let’s start with Cyprus. The Nicosia FIR has a big chunk of unsafe airspace. The Russian aircraft on Monday was shot down on the Nicosia FIR boundary. What do the Notams say? Take a look. There are 97 of them. Mostly about fireworks at local hotels. Critical stuff indeed. Then there are 20 or 30 about “Russian naval exercises”. A clue, perhaps, but where is the black and white “An Aircraft was Shot Down on our Border on Monday?” . Or, since we are still using teletype to communicate Notams to crews, “AN AIRCRAFT WAS SHOT DOWN ON OUR BORDER ON MONDAY”. Wait, we have to abbreviate that, and use codes, for some reason. “ACFT SHOT DOWN ON FIR BDY 17SEP”. That’s better.

What about Turkey? Anything on the Eastern Mediterranean risk? Let’s have a look. Nope, just 132 Bullshit Notams, and something about an AWACS aircraft. See you back here in 30 minutes when you’ve read them all.

Remember, I’m being a pilot, an airline, a dispatcher, trying to find information on the Risk in the Eastern Mediterranean. And this is how hard it is.

EASA (European Aviation Safety Agency), how are you doing? Let’s start here, at the “Information on Conflict Zones”. Paragraph 2 tells us that ICAO have a Central Repository on Conflict Zones, launched in 2015.

No, they don’t. That died — quite a long time ago. This is where it used to live. So, there is no ICAO Central Repository on Conflict Zones. There is a new ICAO document with guidance on managing Conflict Zone risk (and it’s a bloody good one, too) — but where is the picture of current risk?

Let’s plough on through the EASA site. Aha! Seems we have a Conflict Zone alerting system, and Conflict Zone bulletins. Here they all are: https://ad.easa.europa.eu/czib-docs/page-1

The last one on Syria was issued on April 17th. But it seems to be just a list of Notams issued by other states. And these are out of date. The German Notam has expired, the French AIC has been replaced.

And there’s no guidance. No Map. No routes to avoid. Nothing about Cyprus, or Beirut. No mention of the Russian shootdown. No mention of the 9 aircraft shot down this year.

How am I supposed to know, as an operator, or pilot, what the risks are and where to avoid. We’re getting closer to the point here. You’re not supposed to rely on the Aviation Authority. That is their message. You must conduct your own risk assessment. You must research and find out about the risks yourself.

You are on your own.

If you’re a big airline, that’s probably fine. You’ll make your own decisions about where to fly, anyhow. But what about everybody else?

While OpsGroup works hard to get information out to our members — and we spend a lot of time researching risk — I would greatly prefer that we didn’t have to.

Aviation Authorities must issue better guidance for the aircraft entering their areas.

Let me remind you. Airlines are operating 50 miles from a position where an airplane was shot down at night, by a missile type that’s already taken out a passenger airliner by mistake, fired by a beleaguered Syrian defence post, at a friendly aircraft that they did not take time to identify.

And the guidance to operators from Authorities: NIL.

 


 

Opsgroup has now published Note 31: Airspace Risk in the Eastern Mediterranean. There is a clear risk to civil aircraft operating on airways UL620, UW74, UR18, and UP62. In simple terms, if you find yourself planned overwater east of Cyprus, reconsider your route.

Further reading:

Who is still flying over Syria?

We have reported recently on the complex airspace picture and dangers associated with the ongoing Syrian conflict.

Most major carriers have taken the advice of numerous government agencies to avoid Syrian airspace altogether; the FAA going as far as calling on all operators flying within 200 nautical miles of the OSTT/Damascus FIR to “exercise caution”.  Today, the only airlines flying over the airspace are locally based Syrian airlines, Iraq Airlines and Lebanon’s Middle Eastern Airlines.

These MEA overflights are of interest. The airline is a member of the SkyTeam alliance and has codeshare agreements with several high-profile airlines (Air Canada, Air France, etc.) Despite the repeated warnings of the ongoing dangers associated with overflights of this conflict zone, the airline has chosen to schedule more than half-a-dozen flights over the airspace each day.

Some of these flights have the usual codeshare practise of other airlines booking their passengers on MEA flights. Our research shows that Etihad Airways, Qatar Airways (Oneworld Alliance) and Royal Jordanian Airlines (Oneworld Alliance) passengers are still being booked on MEA flights to/from Beirut; likely unbeknown to their customers of the increased flight risk. All three airlines continue to service Beirut with their own aircraft, but all three avoid Syrian airspace, naturally accepting the best advice to avoid the area completely.

Something isn’t right here: no warning anywhere about these flights being flown over Syria.

So why is it safe for passengers to overfly Syria on an MEA flight, but not on any of the other airlines? And more importantly, why is MEA still operating over Syria anyway?

It looks like Kuwait Airways will be the next codeshare partner of MEA, so it will be interesting to see whether the issue of the overflight of conflict zones will be discussed.

As always, keep an eye on our Safeairspace map for the latest worldwide updates.

US, Canada may lose EU visa rights, More Free Route Airspace for Northern Europe

US and Canada may lose EU visa rights 13APR The European Commission published warning on 12APR that visa-free travel by US and Canadian citizens to Europe is at risk, due to the lack of a full reciprocal arrangement for EU citizens. Read the full article.

More Free Route Airspace for Northern Europe 13APR Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Estonia and Latvia will be increasing free route airspace from 23JUN16. This allows operators to utilize User Preferred Routes above FL285. Details of the implementation can be found through the AIC A3/2016 from Sweden.


 

RKSS/Gimpo is set to open South Korea’s first purpose-built FBO next month. It includes a passenger terminal with customs and a large hangar that can accommodate up to eight large jets. The FBO is a partnership between Korea Airport Crop and Avjet Asia.

EBBR/Brussels Controversial ATC Strike occurred without notice yesterday 12APR, restricting traffic at EBBR and in Belgian Airspace. Eurocontrol advises 4 of 6 sectors operational Wednesday 13APR, at this stage no significant further effect likely.

KZZZ/USA New security measures in the U.S. are being enacted in response to the Brussels Airport Bombings. The Senate voted to increase the vetting of airport workers, expand the number of TSA viper teams that sweep through airports unannounced to stop and search suspicious people, and double the number of TSA’s bomb-sniffing dogs. Also, local law enforcement may also conduct random checks of cars and taxis heading towards the airport.

KZZZ/USA the FAA has provided its NextGEN update for 2016. It highlights all the completed items along with the expected achievements for the year. You can find all the info through the NextGEN website.

EZZZ/Europe as of 05APR Eurocontrol as been publishing Target Time information together with Calculated Take-off time (CTOT) in the Slot Allocation and Slot Revisions Messages (SAM and SRM). The purpose of the initiative is to provide flight crew with operational awareness of their flight’s planned time at the congestion point in the air, rather than solely providing the corresponding delayed departure time (CTOT) to implement ATFM measures.

EGZZ/United Kingdom A large scale military exercise named ‘Joint Warrior 16-1’ has been taking place since 09APR16 and will last until 22APR06. EGPX and EGTT FIR/UIRs are affected. However, low to medium impact on airline operations is expected.

LFZZ/France beginning 03MAY16 France will be implementing CPDLC services within LFFF, LFEE, LFRR, LFMM and LFBB FIR’s. The full details of the IOC can be found in AIC 10/16.

EGGX/Shanwick OCA implemented a trail of 5 minute separation minimum between aircraft which are following the same track, irrespective of whether they are East or Westbound. Full details can be found through AIC Y 022/2016.

LOWW/Vienna every weekend until 24MAY16 LOWW will be operating under single runway ops beginning 2100 on the Friday until 1600 on the Sunday. The closures are weather dependent and the closure will be recalled if the forecast calls for the use of runway 11/29. In any single runway scenario use at Vienna delays are a guarantee.

OEZZ/Saudi Arabia The U.S. State department updated a travel warning to Saudi Arabia on 11APR16. It outlines the risk to travellers due to an increased risk with the threat of terrorism.

SKZZ/Colombia The U.S. State department has updated the travel warning to Colombia. They have actually improved the travel warning as the security in the country has improved significantly in recent years. Foreigners should still exercise caution though.

LTCC/Diyarbakir is now able to handle international flights due to a new terminal building that has opened.

OLBA/Beirut two airport employees were detained on suspicion of terrorist activity involvement on 08APR16. Traces of explosives and a handgun were found on the two individuals.

DIAP/Cote D’Ivoire has reduced the passenger departure tax by 50% and have also removed the solidarity contribution tax levied on airline tickets.

GABS/Mali began renovations last month (MAR16) to increase the airports capacity to handle 1.5 million passengers which is up from the 800,000 annual passenger traffic. The project is expected to be completed by the end of the year.

View the full International Bulletin for 13APR2016

Monday Briefing: Thanksgiving ATC Traffic Plan, New Missiles Warning – Baghdad FIR

Thanksgiving ATC Traffic Plan 23NOV The FAA have published details of Traffic Management plans for the east coast of the US during the Thanksgiving holidays, effective 24NOV to 30NOV. The highest volume days will be 25NOV and 29NOV, expect delays on north/south routes to Florida during this period. Read the full details of the airspace initiatives here.

New Missiles Warning – Baghdad FIR 23NOV A NOTAM issued today by the Iraqi CAA indicated anticipated cruise missile traffic across the FIR from the Caspian Sea, leading also to the closure of Erbil Airport until Wednesday. See below for further.


 

EGGX/CZQX Shanwick/Gander The new NAT Track Structure and Reduced Lateral Separation Minima procdures, initially planned for 12NOV, are now re-planned for Monday 30NOV, following the resolution of computer issues related to the new format.

UIII/Irkustk will close the main runway on 01, 08, 15 and 22DEC from 1210-1450Z for repairs, not available as alternate during these times. As this is a common Polar alternate, check NOTAMS for current information.

UEEE/Yakutsk will close 31DEC-02JAN, not available for movements or as alternate after 0500Z on 31DEC.

EINN/Shannon has a runway closure on 23NOV from 2345Z-0500Z, not available as alternate. Caution before using as NAT alternate on this date. If another ETOPS alternate is required, consider EIDW/Dublin, EGAA/Belfast or EGPF/Glasgow.

ORBB/Baghdad FIR Iraq published the following NOTAM (A0413/15) effective today 23NOV CRUISE MISSILES CROSSING NORTHERN PART OF IRAQ, FROM CASPIAN SEA TO SYRIA,NORTH OF REP OTALO,NO CRUISE MISSILE OPS IN THE REST OF ORBB FIR,FLIGHTS OPERATING AT FL310 OR ABOVE AND FLIGHTS OPERATING AT ORBI,ORNI AND ORMM NOT AFFECTED. SFC – 30000FT MSL, 23NOV 0500Z – 25NOV 0500Z. In addition Erbil and Sulamaini airports will be closed until Wednesday.

OLBA/Beirut FIR Initially issued a NOTAM on 20NOV, closing a large part of the FIR including routes G2/UG2 , R219/UR219, L620/UL620, in response to Russia’s request for a training exercise in their airspace. Subsequently the government reversed their decision, and the NOTAM was cancelled on 22NOV, reference A0293/15.

BKPR/Kosovo Airspace to the north of Kosovo was released from UN/KFOR restriction, to Serbian control, on 20NOV, meaning that arrivals and departures from Europe will no longer have to make a circuitous approach and can depart to the north. Procedures are not yet in place, but technically the airspace is no longer restricted. For most operators this will see a route saving of up to 100nm.

GABS/Bamako, Mali. With great sadness we must report that 6 crew members of Volga-Dnepr Airlines were amongst those killed in the attack on the Radisson Hotel in Bamako on Friday.

KXXX/USA Thanksgiving Holidays 26NOV and 27NOV leading to increased traffic flows across US, but anticipated reduced traffic across the NAT region.

KXXX/USA Runway Closures DTW-RWY 4L/22R CLOSED SEA-RWY 16C/34C CLOSED LAS-RWY 7L/25R CLOSED LAX-RWY 6R/24L CLOSED 23/1430

FJDG/Diego Garcia Parking Stands A6-11 and B4-8, as well as some taxiways, closed for repair effected 19NOV.

NWWW/Noumea continues with runway closures 23-26NOV affecting the main runway.

FABL/Bloemfontein, South Africa will not accept widebody diversions 19-26NOV.

GCCC/Canarias FIR will have a HF outage today 23NOV from 0900-1500Z. In case of non-contact, use CPDLC, or HF via Santa Maria or Sal for relay.

LIXX/Italy ATC Strike planned for 24NOV 1200-1600Z has been postponed, refer NOTAM A8227/2015.

HLLL/Tripoli FIR Additional new southbound route available via RASNO UY751 LOSUL, for those operators using the airspace.

LFEE/Rheims ATC Strike 23NOV/0500Z – 28NOV/0500Z Confirmed for Monday only at this time – NOTAM F2093/15 refers. AOs are advised to reroute, avoiding LFEE area of responsibility. Those that are not able to reroute may expect delay.

RJJJ/Japan FIR will have a comms outage affecting Flight Plan filing on 25NOV, from 1410-1720Z. To avoid delays and missing plans, Flight Plans should be filed earlier than normal to RJJJZQZX for overflights and landings. Refer to J7545/15 for specifics.

SPJC/Lima, Peru Effective 12NOV the Location Indicator for the main airport in Lima, Jorge Chavez, changes from SPIM to SPJC.

TTZP/Piarco ATC has issued a request for operators to include KNYCZZZX when filing plans entering New York Oceanic airspace from the Piarco FIR, or operating east of 58W within the Piarco FIR, in order that New York has details of the aircraft.

With regard to business aviation, but equally interesting for airlines and private operators, the NBAA has published a useful list of the Top10 Issues for International Operators in 2016.

 

View the full International Operations Bulletin for 23NOV2015

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