Tag: overflight risk

FSB removes North Korea airspace warnings

Flight Service Bureau is today removing all airspace warnings regarding North Korea from our guidance to aircraft operators. Specifically:

  • We are removing the Level 1 – Do Not Flywarning for the Pyongyang FIR – both mainland and waters areas.
  • We are no longer concerned about splashdown missile risk in the Sea of Japan and withdraw Note 30 to OpsGroup.

We have monitored the North Korea situation as regards overflight risk since 2014, when the first signs of risk appeared. In August 2016, we identified the missile risk as being increased, applying a Level 2 warning, and in August 2017, we elevated North Korea to Level 1, adding a warning for the Sea of Japan.

With the complete turnaround in political stance of North Korea in the last few months, it is our opinion that further test launches of missiles through the Pyongyang FIR are most unlikely. Coupled with the assurances given to ICAO last week, even if one were launched, we can expect a notification.

This position is better than we have been in during the period from 2005-2014, the years during which North Korea tested missiles but notified ICAO.

Too soon?

Airspace risk evolves rapidly. In the same way that we report risk to aircraft operators as soon as we know about it, through OpsGroup and safeairspace.net, we must also be prepared to stand down when the basis for those risks dissolves. We’re not assessing the likelihood of future political will of North Korea, or the chances of success for reunification. We’re simply saying, the basis for the warnings that exist – not just ours, but also the state warnings  from the US, UK, France and Germany – was unannounced missile launches, and that basis is now without merit.

As mentioned above, we are in at least as good a position as 2014, when nobody avoided North Korean airspace.

Guidance from FSB

We report on overflight and airspace risk to aircraft operators. Where we can, we give clear guidance. Our mission, in the wake of MH17, is to ensure that all operators have access to the information they need to make informed decisions about risky airspace.

It won’t always match guidance from States and Aviation Authorities: in this case, it won’t match any of the current state guidance.

The reason: we are an independent organisation, we form guidance based on the viewpoints of our analysts and more importantly, the 4000 airlines, operators, pilots, and dispatchers in OpsGroup. We are not bounded by political pressure, commercial pressure, or fear of getting it wrong. We’ll give you the best intended, most honest, clearest possible summary of opinion and guidance, so that you can make your own final decision about where to fly. Our first interest lies with the pilot, and the aircraft operator.

Current state warnings:

Further reading

  • OPSGROUP
  • safeairspace.net
  • Reuters: North Korea agrees to warn of activity hazardous to aviation: U.N. agency
  • FSB: Is North Korea safe to overfly again? – May 2018
  • FSB Archive: “Here’s why North Korean missiles are now a real threat to Civil Aviation” –
  • FSB Archive: “North Korea overflight getting riskier” – August 2016
  • FSB Archive: “North Korea missile threat” – August 2016

 

New Unsafe Airspace Summary and Map

March 20, 2018: One of our biggest missions in OPSGROUP is to share risk information and keep operators aware of the current threat picture. The latest Unsafe Airspace Summary is now published, and available to members here as a PDF download (Unsafe Airspace Summary 20MAR2018, edition LIMA).

The main changes since the last summary are below. For a current risk map, refer to the Airspace Risk map in your member Dashboard.

The situation in Afghanistan remains similar. On March 13, Germany added wording to maintain FL330 or higher,  still recommending against landings at Afghan airports.

Germany also issued updated NOTAMs for Mali, Iraq, and South Sudan. All warnings remain as previous, unchanged from the prior NOTAMs.

Fresh warnings as FAA clarifies weapons risk in Kenya, Mali airspace

Feb 27th, 2017: The FAA has issued fresh warnings for Kenyan and Malian airspace, warning US operators of the potential dangers in operating through both the Nairobi and Malian FIR’s.

Published on Feb 26th, the new advice also adds new language with clarification of the type of weapons and phases of flight that the FAA is concerned about, specifically:

  • fire from small arms,
  • indirect fire weapons (such as mortars and rockets), and
  • anti-aircraft weapons such as MANPADS.

The scenarios considered highest risk include :

  • landings and takeoffs,
  • low altitudes, and
  • aircraft on the ground.

The FAA uses the same wording for both Kenya and Mali. Additionally for Mali, the Algerian CAA has concurrently published airspace closures along their southern border due to the conflict, and the FAA’s background notes on the Mali conflict still stand.

The updated guidance is intended for US operators and FAA License holders, but in reality is used by most International Operators including EU and Asian carriers, since only four countries currently provide useful information on airspace security and conflict zones.

The Notams both use FL260 as the minimum safe level, though we would suggest, as usual, that a higher level closer to FL300 is more sensible.

These updates have been notified through SafeAirspace.net, a collaborative and information sharing tool used by airlines, business jet operators, state agencies, military, and private members of  OPSGROUP.

This is the new wording in the latest FAA Notams on Mali and Kenya:

POSSIBILITY OF ATTACKS ON CIVIL AVIATION BY EXTREMISTS/MILITANTS.
AIRCRAFT MAY ENCOUNTER FIRE FROM SMALL ARMS; INDIRECT FIRE WEAPONS,
SUCH AS MORTARS AND ROCKETS; AND ANTI-AIRCRAFT CAPABLE WEAPONS,
INCLUDING MAN-PORTABLE AIR DEFENSE SYSTEMS (MANPADS).SUCH WEAPONS 
COULD TARGET AIRCRAFT AT LOW ALTITUDES, INCLUDING DURING THE ARRIVAL
AND DEPARTURE PHASES OF FLIGHT, AND/OR AIRPORTS AND AIRCRAFT ON THE
GROUND.

The NOTAMs in full are on our Kenya and Mali pages respectively.

References:

  • Kenya country information page at safeairspace.net
  • Mali country information page at safeairspace.net
  • OPSGROUP collaborative project

 

 

What altitude is ‘safe enough’ to overfly a Conflict Zone?

Most conflict zone guidance from Aviation Authorities is based on the risk posed by MANPADS – Man Portable Air Defence Systems, or more descriptively – Shoulder Launched Surface to Air Missiles (SAMS).

Large-Unit SAM attacks on aircraft are uncommon – MH17, removed from the sky by a Russian-made Buk missile, was the first aircraft to be shot down by a large SAM unit since a Siberia Airlines Tupolev in 2001. These large units – requiring a radar system as part of the mechanism – have never been used by terrorists. Almost all incidences involving large-unit SAMs have involved misidentification. There is no safe altitude from a large SAM.

MANPADS, on the other hand, represent a greater threat to aircraft in 2017. These shoulder-launched systems are very portable, and far more likely to fall into the wrong hands. Common ranges are in the 10,000 – 15,000 ft range. The most dangerous is the FIM-92 Stinger, which has an operational ceiling of 26,000 ft (and there is concern that these have reached anti-government rebels in Syria)

The internationally promulgated standard safe altitude for overflight has now become about 25,000 ft AGL. Most CAA/State guidance is issued based on this number. There are two important points for aircraft operators to note:

    • That is 25,000 feet Above Ground Level. A missile could easily be launched from a mountain, or higher ground, so if you take 25,000 feet as your safety margin, make sure to add the terrain elevation beneath. In South Sudan, for example – Juba is at 2,000 feet – most of the country is at about this height. So 27,000 feet should be the minimum safe level, and you can work with FL270.
    • This is based on the assumption that we’re not worried about Stingers. Especially in the Middle East, a higher safe altitude might be better. FL300 seems like a good place to start.

 

References:

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