Tag: LLBG

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:

Countries with bans on flights to Israel

Which countries have banned both direct flights and overflying traffic to/from Israel?

It’s a question we get asked a lot. Here’s the answer:

Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Brunei, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Malaysia, Morocco, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, UAE, Yemen.

These countries do not officially recognise Israel, and prohibit flights going to/from Israel from using their airspace.

The two exceptions we’ve spotted are:
1. In March 2018, Saudi Arabia started giving Air India permission to use its airspace on flights between VIDP/Delhi and LLBG/Tel Aviv, thus marking the end of the 70-year airspace ban that Saudi Arabia had in place against flights to/from Israel.
2. Sudan, who regularly allow Ethiopian Airlines to use their airspace for their Addis Ababa to Tel Aviv flights:

But for everyone else wanting to do private or non-scheduled flights to/from Israel, Sudan airspace is off-limits.

For anyone wanting to get from Israel to Asia, there is a narrow corridor available down the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden, and across the Indian Ocean. This takes advantage of the fact that most countries operate with a 12NM rule – that is, if you’re in their FIR, and you’re 12NM away from the landmass, you don’t need a permit.

Israel’s national carrier El Al operates a couple of scheduled flights on this basis – one to Mumbai, and another to Bangkok:

There is no airway down the Red Sea between Egypt and Saudi Arabia, so you have to fly a direct route between the FIRs. As reported by an Opsgroup member, here’s how it works:

FL290 for southbound traffic, and FL300 for northbound. ATC at both Cairo and Saudi FIRs are used to that. When departing from Israel and going southbound, after losing radar contact with Cairo, you are on your own. Report on Africa VHF freq that you are "over International waters southbound / northbound etc." Listen to Saudi control and try to call them - but do not expect an answer. You will need to maintain your own separation visually, although the Saudis will see you on their radar and they are used to jets flying there. Keep your landing lights on 'pulse' for any opposite traffic. Contact Asmara (Eritrea) control 10NM before entering their FIR. Use SAT phone if no one answers on VHF.

On the reverse side, Israel only allow overflights of their airspace to Royal Jordanian Airlines, and only when departing from or flying to the following airports: CYUL/Montreal, EHBK/Maastricht, KDTW/Detroit, KORD/Chicago, LTAC/Ankara.

Although it’s technically possible for other operators to apply for an overflight permit, it can take up to 30 days, and it’s highly unlikely you’ll get approved unless you’re operating some kind of diplomatic or state flight.

More information:

  • For direct flights to Israel, you can only operate from certain authorised airports. See the list of airports here.

  • If you want to know exactly how to get your landing or overflight permits, check out our Permit Book – this tells you how to get a permit for each and every country in the world!

  • Does anything in this article look wrong to you? Let us know, so we can fix it!

Tel Aviv Airport closes as a precaution against attack

LLBG/Tel-aviv: Israel’s main airport briefly suspended operations on Feb 10, due to military clashes along the northern border with Syria.

Two Israeli pilots were forced to abandon their F-16 jet, which crashed near the border after being hit by a Syrian anti-aircraft missile. The jet was on a mission in which it struck an Iranian facility in Syria that had previously operated a drone which Israel shot down over its territory.

This resulted in all flights from LLBG/Tel-aviv Airport being grounded for around an hour starting at 9am local time, as a precaution against any further attacks. The airport is considered a strategic location that could be targeted during military conflict.

Here’s what Israel’s PM had to say about it:

This incident marks the most significant engagement by Israel in the fighting that has been taking place in neighbouring Syria since 2011. Israel has mostly stayed out of the conflict so far, but has recently become more concerned about the increased Iranian presence along its border.

Strike cancelled at Tel Aviv Airport

Update 1800z Nov 30: A strike by airport workers at LLBG/Tel Aviv which was originally planned for this weekend has now been cancelled.

The Airports Authority says the strike was canceled after the government intervened and were able to reach a deal with the workers’ union to delay any strike action this weekend.

We’ll keep this page updated with any more news as we get it.

Israel moves closer to Eurocontrol

Israel has signed an agreement with Eurocontrol to work more closely together in flight planning.

Air traffic between Israel and Europe has been growing at over 9% a year for the past three years. This growth poses ongoing challenges to international civil aviation and underlines the need to improve ties between regions in order to ensure flight efficiency and safety in airspace and airports that are growing more crowded every year.

Israel is now the second country to sign the “Eurocontrol Comprehensive Agreement”.

What does this mean for operators?

The existing process is complex and multi-step: flights that transit Europe from Israel require filing at least 3 hours in advance to the Tel Aviv Coordination Centre, who then liaise with Eurocontrol to verify that the routing is RAD compliant. Changes are often then made by Eurocontrol and back down the line to the operator.

The implementation date is to be confirmed, but FPL filing out of Israel will now be the same as for any other European country, with immediate ACK from Eurocontrol.

Other benefits of this agreement are improved crisis management, more efficient traffic flows between Israel and Europe, more predictable day to day operations, improved safety and possibly airspace redesign and management.

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