Tag: Safeairspace

No change to Iran airspace warning despite new US sanctions

The US reimposed sanctions against Iran on Nov 5. Despite this, so far there has been no change to the FAA guidance to US operators issued on 9th September 2018: flights to Iran are not prohibited, but operators should “exercise caution” when flying in Iranian airspace.

However, with the reimposed sanctions comes a new problem if you’re a US operator: you’re allowed to overfly Iran, but you’re not allowed to pay for all the things needed to make that happen – things like overflight permits, and nav fees.

The rule is simple: no US person or business can pay for services in countries with sanctions against them (like Iran), unless that person or business has a licence to do so, issued by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC).

And you’re not allowed to get an agent to do it for you either; it’s illegal to skirt the OFAC laws by using a 3rd party company (unless, of course, they’ve been approved by OFAC).

So the big question we have now is this: if you’re planning to overfly Iran, have you figured out the legalities of paying for services? How are you making that work? Know someone who’s got an OFAC licence for Iran? Let us know!

And one other thing to watch out for – operators with US based insurers should double-check their policies, as you may now no longer be covered for flights to Iran, due to the new sanctions. This is worth checking, even if you’re only planning on overflying the Tehran FIR, as any unplanned landing (decompression, medical, engine fire) may force you into Tehran or another airport – it’s a big chunk of airspace.

Further reading:

FAA Issues New Ukraine Advice

The U.S. FAA has partially lifted its airspace ban on Eastern Ukraine – the UKFV/Simferopol and UKDV/Dnipropetrovsk FIRs.

The new ruling means that U.S. operators are now allowed to operate on routes over certain parts of the Black Sea, and to three Ukrainian airports: UKHH/Kharkiv, UKDD/Dnipropetrovsk and UKDE/Zaporizhzhia.

According to the FAA, “security and safety conditions have sufficiently stabilized in certain regions of Ukraine, thereby reducing the area of hazard to U.S. civil aviation” in the UKFV and UKDV FIRs.

Here’s our map detailing the new rule:

click the image to open larger version!

The changes:

UKDV/Dnipropetrovsk FIR:
– Everything east of ABDAR – M853 – NIKAD – N604 – GOBUN is prohibited. Airways M853 and N604 are off-limits as well.
– Operations to Kharkiv International Airport (UKHH), Dnipropetrovsk International Airport (UKDD),  and Zaporizhzhia International Airport (UKDE) are now permitted.

UKFV/Simferopol FIR:
– Everything North/North East of SOBLO – DOLOT – SOROK – OTPOL is off-limits.
– Airways M856, M854, M860 and L851 have been approved for flights over the Black Sea.
– Airway M747 is prohibited, as it shares some of the off-limits airspace.

Here’s the Notam:

A0021/18 NOTAMN Q) KICZ/QRDLP/IV/NBO/AE/000/999/ 
A) KICZ B) 1810191127 C) 2010272359 
E) SECURITY..UNITED STATES OF AMERICA FLIGHT PROHIBITION AGAINST CERTAIN FLIGHTS IN THE SIMFEROPOL (UKFV) FLIGHT INFORMATION REGION (FIR) AND DNIPROPETROVSK (UKDV) FIR 14 CFR 91.1607 SPECIAL FEDERAL AVIATION REGULATION (SFAR) NO. 113 PROHIBITION AGAINST CERTAIN FLIGHTS IN THE SIMFEROPOL (UKFV) FLIGHT INFORMATION REGION (FIR) AND DNIPROPETROVSK (UKDV) FIR WAS PUBLISHED IN THE FEDERAL REGISTER ON 19 OCT 2018 AND WAS EFFECTIVE IMMEDIATELY. ADDITIONAL INFORMATION IS PROVIDED AT: HTTPS://WWW.FAA.GOV/AIR_TRAFFIC/PUBLICATIONS/US_RESTRICTIONS/ F) SFC G) UNL

Why now?

The FAA’s previous ban, in place since April 2014, applied to all airspace in the UKFV and UKDV FIRs. There were two quite separate issues affecting the two chunks of airspace: risk from arms fire in the UKDV FIR, and disputed airspace in the UKFV FIR.

Let’s take a look at each one, with the reasons why the ban was initially imposed, and what has happened since then to convince the FAA to downgrade its warning…

UKDV/Dnipropetrovsk FIR: Risk from arms fire

The war in the Donbass region in eastern Ukraine resulted in the shoot-down of MH17 in July 2014. Multiple military aircraft were shot down in the region in the weeks leading up to that event. The airspace ban was imposed due to the clear risk of civil aircraft being targeted – or as the FAA more diplomatically puts it: “aircraft being misidentified and then intercepted or otherwise engaged”.

What’s changed?
Here’s what the FAA say:

“The anti-aircraft weapons capabilities and deployments of forces associated with the pro-Russian separatists are limited at this time to within the eastern portion of the UKDV/Dnipropetrovsk FIR. While the potential for fluctuating levels of military engagement continues along the line of control in eastern portions of the FIR, the military conflict has begun to stabilize, which reduces the risk of a larger-scale conflict that might extend into the western portion of the FIR. This results in a reduced risk to civil aviation in the western portion of the FIR.”

In other words…
The conflict has died-down, and only exists over in the east of the FIR anyway, near to the border with Russia. The risk to ops over the western part of the FIR is now sufficiently reduced so as to allow the reopening of that portion of airspace, and for flights to resume to the airports in that region (UKHH/Kharkiv, UKDD/Dnipropetrovsk and UKDE/Zaporizhzhia).

UKFV/Simferopol FIR – Disputed airspace

In March 2014, Russia annexed Crimea. The ATC Center is in Simferopol, Crimea, and is now run by Russia. Russia claims the airspace, and now publish Notams for the FIR under the code “URFV”. Ukraine refuses to recognise the change, and asks crews to talk to Ukrainian controllers in Dnipro/Odesa ACC instead of Simferopol ACC. As the FAA point out, the risk here stems from aircraft “receiving confusing and conflicting air traffic control instructions from both Ukrainian and Russian ATC” when operating over the region.

What’s changed?
Here’s what they say:

“The previous flight safety concerns for conflicting ANSP guidance for the Black Sea air routes at a distance offshore from the Peninsula within portions of the Simferopol FIR (UKFV) have been addressed by the government of Ukraine. Since the FAA extended the prohibition in SFAR No. 113, § 91.1607, in 2016, the government of Ukraine has established, via its aeronautical information publication (AIP), a restricted airspace area over the Crimean Peninsula and the adjacent territorial sea. In addition, the government of Ukraine has issued flight advisories, prohibitions and other instructions for the safe navigation of civil aircraft, which are published via NOTAMs, reclassified Ukrainian airspace in 2014… and improved safety incident reporting procedures to mitigate the risks associated with conflicting ANSP guidance from the Russian Federation over the Black Sea routes offshore from the Crimean Peninsula and over the high seas. Since these actions were implemented, there has been a decrease in safety-related hazards demonstrated by over two years of safe flight operations on the Black Sea air routes by non-U.S. civil operators. Therefore, the FAA assesses that these actions have sufficiently mitigated the hazard to civil aviation operating on the Black Sea air routes to allow U.S. civil flights to resume on those routes.”

In other words…
The Russians are still in Crimea, still claiming control of the airspace, and still confusing people. So that northern part of the FIR is therefore still out-of-bounds. But in the south, operators can safely fly over a handful of airways over the Black Sea which are controlled by Ukrainian ATC.

What are other countries saying about Ukraine?

Aside from the U.S., three other countries consistently publish airspace warnings: the UK, Germany, and France.

UK and France: both have warnings in place advising against all ops over both of these Ukrainian FIRs, with the exception of airways L851, M856, M860, and M854 in the UKFV/Simferopol FIR.

Germany: does not have any published warnings in place at all.

So for the southerly UKFV/Simferopol FIR, the change to U.S. advice is basically just mirroring what France and the UK have been saying for the past two years. But for the northerly UKDV/Dnipropetrovsk FIR, the U.S. is now the first and only country to say that a portion of the airspace is now deemed safe to operate in.

For more details on Ukraine and other airspace warnings, head to SafeAirspace.net.

For the new U.S. rule in full, click here.

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:

Dubai to London – which way is best?

In Short: Two main options, via Saudi and Egypt (safer, cheaper but longer) or via Iran and Turkey (shorter, busier and geo-politically more unstable). It’s a complicated planning climate at present. Review regularly based on latest risk factors.   

There are more business aviation operators flying between the Middle East and Europe than ever before. So we took the time to look over the route options between the two regions. For our example we will be using a flight from Dubai to London, but similar operational considerations are valid for the plethora of route combinations through this whole region.

Firstly, we are sure you are a frequent visitor to our safe airspace website. Updated all the time with the latest notes and risk recommendations based on the latest intel. So, first things first, we want to avoid Syria, Libya and the Sinai Peninsula. As you can see however, this is a complicated geo-political region for flight planning. The direct great circle route would take us through Syria and would be around 3125nm. But that isn’t going to work. So, what else we got?

We will look at the two ways to head over the region. One is via Iran, Turkey and onwards to Europe. The other over Saudi Arabia and Egypt towards Europe.

Option 1: Iran/Turkey

Safety: Both Iran and Turkey are FSB Risk Level: Three – Caution. Iran is involved in the ongoing conflict with Syria and several Russian missiles crossed the Tehran FIR and several busy international routes. There are also increased tensions between the USA and Iran at present – if you had to divert in an N-reg aircraft, Iran would not be the friendliest of places to do so. Turkey borders with Syria and we have received multiple reports of GPS interference in the area.

Distance: an extra 100nm.

Time: About 15 minutes longer than great circle route.

Ease and Cost: Iran has higher overflight costs and for US based operators a reminder of the sanctions for dealing directly with Iran, or agencies in Iran. You’ll want to use an approved agent if you’re from the US (i.e.–not an Iranian company). Iran doesn’t work on Fridays, so be aware there. Turkish overflight costs are reasonable and remember that Turkish authorities require the use of an agent to apply for permits.

Traffic: The biggest issue with this route is that everyone is using it! It’s congested with a lot of airline traffic. It’s a major corridor for Asia-Europe flights also. So, getting the levels you want, and off route deviations are more complicated. Things get busy, as you can see!

Option 2: Saudi/Egypt

Safety: In terms of airspace warnings and risk, this route is slightly better. We have rated Saudi and Egypt airspace as FSB Risk Level: Two – Assessed Risk. Beyond the Sinai Peninsula and the Saudi/Yemen border, generally there is less of a chance of airspace security risks at present.

Distance: An extra 300nm from the great circle.

Time: Around 45 minutes longer.

Ease and Cost: Saudi and Egyptian airspace are generally a cheaper option ($1,000USD+). In Egypt, by law you have to get your permit through an Egyptian agent, but it’s a straight forward process. In Saudi, again, using an agent is best; they normally have three-day lead time – so keep that in mind. Also remember that the CAA only work Sun-Wed during office hours.

Traffic: For most of the day, much less of a traffic bottle neck.


Bottom line

Of the two options, routing via Saudi/Egypt is cheaper, and safer (as long as you steer clear of Egypt’s Sinai Peninsular and Saudi’s border with Yemen), but it’s going to take slightly longer.

What about Iraq?

We don’t think it’s a good idea. There’s a lot of information out there saying certain airways are ok but only at higher levels. But if you needed to get down fast, or even make an unexpected landing, Iraq isn’t the place you would want to go at present. Treat with caution.

Which one is your favourite choice? Let us know!

Further reading:

HLLL Tripoli FIR 2018 Operational Changes – Libya

UPDATE Friday 7 Sep 2018: HLLM/Mitiga Airport reopened on Sep 7, following a UN-mediated ceasefire between local militia. It had been closed since Aug 31 – the latest in a long string of closures due to heavy fighting in the area. We continue to advise against all ops to Libya, including overflights.

A number of countries already have blanket warnings in place against operating to Libya, and they all say pretty much the same thing: avoid the entire country – don’t overfly the Tripoli FIR, and don’t land at any Libyan airports.

Even the Libyan authorities have issued some guidance of their own, showing those areas that they believe to be active Conflict Zones – this type of notification from a ‘Conflict Zone state’ is rare.

HLLL/LIBYA A0067/18 
THE FOLLOWING AREAS ARE CONSIDERED TO BE CONFLICT ZONES WITHIN HLLL FIR:
AREA 1: 3116N01610E 3108N01707E 3030N01700E 3042N01605E
AREA 2: 3251N02240E 3243N02246E 3239N02218E 3247N02216E.
GND - FL195, 12 MAY 09:40 2018 UNTIL 12 AUG 12:00 2018 ESTIMATED.
CREATED: 12 MAY 09:48 2018

One of these areas is around the city of Sirte, including HLGT/Sirte Airport; and the other covers the city of Derna to the east of HLLQ/Labraq Airport:

Other than those two small areas, Libya is happily advertising the country as being open for business! In their updated Notam published in May 2018, they say their airspace is “available H24 for international traffic transiting the HLLL FIR”, and they outline their mandatory routing scheme. They also claim that HLLB/Benina, HLLM/Mitiga, HLLQ/Labraq, HLMS/Misrata and HLTQ/Tobruk airports are “available H24 for international flights and diversions”.

Don’t be fooled. Libya is still a desperately unstable country. There are still regular outages in the provision of ATC services – especially at the main airports due to security or technical failure issues. The main ACC in Tripoli is also subject to severe limitations with no radar service and limited provision of CNS/ATM services in most of the HLLL FIR airspace.

The situation at the country’s main airports is no better. Both airports in Tripoli are focal points for fighting. Given their strategic value, they periodically serve as headquarters for various local militias.

HLLT/Tripoli Airport has been more or less completely closed since mid-2014, when at least 90% of the airport’s facilities were destroyed in fighting between local militias. Since then, international flights to and from Tripoli have been using HLLM/Mitiga instead. Technically, HLLT/Tripoli is now only available for VIP, emergency and ambulance flights; but in reality, it should be avoided at all costs.

HLLM/Mitiga Airport is the old military airfield, which is now being used for civilian traffic, since the closure of HLLT/Tripoli. However, the airport has been plagued by violence over the past few years, and has been forced to close on a number of occasions.

Here’s a rough timeline of notable incidents at Libya’s main airports over the past few months:

April 2018: militants fired rockets at Mitiga, causing damage to the airport building, parts of the apron tarmac, and a parked Libya Airlines A320 aircraft (see picture to the right).

April 2018:  HLMS/Misrata Airport briefly suspended operations and redirected flights to Mitiga, when an armed group entered the airport, demanding the release of two members of a local militia.

Feb 2018: another closure at Mitiga related to ongoing clashes between local militia. This time, a mortar shell fell near the airport, and the ATC tower was evacuated, forcing flights to divert to Misrata.

Jan 2018: heavy clashes across Tripoli left at least twenty people dead and forced Mitiga to close for five days, from Jan 15-20. Gunfire at the airport damaged multiple aircraft, including a few A319s and at least one A330:

Oct 2017: a Libyan Airlines A330 at Mitiga airport was hit by gunfire during an exchange of fire between local militia in the district directly south of the airport:

Given the current security concerns, it may be prudent to ignore whatever the Libyan authorities decide to publish on the HLLL FIR Notams about the country’s airspace and main international airports being “available H24”. We continue to list the entire country as “Level 1 – Avoid” at safeairspace.net.

More:

Saudi Arabia added to warning list

With a publication date of tomorrow (May 10), there is a new French AIC coming out “15/18: OVERFLIGHT OF CONFLICT ZONES“.

Of note is the new addition to the list – Saudi Arabia.

These French AIC’s use careful wording so as to completely avoid mentioning the specific threat for each country it includes in its list, but clearly in the case of Saudi Arabia, this new warning is related to the increased missile activity along the border with Yemen. The new advice to French carriers (but in reality, everyone) is:

– To exercise caution during flight operations in the airspace of Saudi Arabia (OEJD/JEDDAH FIR) and follow instructions given by the Saudi authorities providing air traffic services, particularly in the southwest of Saudi airspace in which SCATANA (Security Control of Air Traffic and Air Navigation Aids rules) may be activated by NOTAM by the Saudi authorities;

– Not to operate any flights to OEAB/Abha, OEGN/Jazan, OENG/Nejran, OESH/Sharurah, OEWD/Wadi Al Dawasir and OEBH/Bisha airports located in the southwest of the FIR – these airports should not be planned as alternates either.

The advice here is similar to the existing German Notam issued back in March, which warns against flying close to the border with Yemen, and to avoid landing at OEAB/Abha airport. The German Notam also makes a point of referencing the risk of operating to both OEJN/Jeddah and OERK/Riyadh, due to the high number of missile attacks launched against these airports from within Yemen recently.

With the overall increase in missile activity in the southwest of the country, there is now a clear risk to operations in Saudi airspace, even outside the SCATANA area. The conflict between Saudi Arabia and Yemen remains complex and volatile. Safeairspace continues to provide up-to-date information for both Saudi and Yemen airspace.

Further reading:

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