There is a new Conflict Zone in the east of Africa, which carries elevated risk to flight operations that may not be obvious from NOTAMs or other risk warning sources.
Some airways have been closed by the Ethiopian and Sudanese CAAs. Other airways that are still open are very close to the Conflict Zone. These are frequently used by international operators on the Europe- East Africa route. In particular: UN321, UG300 and UL432. We are concerned that operators may be using these routes without being aware of the risk.
OPSGROUP has today issued an Airspace Risk Warning to its members.
The region being disputed is called Tigray. It’s in the north of Ethiopia. Government forces are fighting a regional force that wants independence, called the TPLF. In the past week, there has been heavy fighting, multiple airstrikes, missiles launched, and a growing refugee crisis. A domestic conflict has become a cross-border war.
There are many warning flags that point to previous shootdown incidents – not least MH17 and PS752. These are the reasons we are particularly concerned about the risk to civil aviation in this region:
Local NOTAMs are misleading
The NOTAMs issued by the Ethiopian CAA to close airways in the conflict zone (UM308, UT124) do not say why they are closed. NOTAMs issued to reroute traffic to adjacent routes (UN321, UL432) do not say why they are rerouted. The same applies to NOTAMs issued by the Sudan CAA to close airways and reroute traffic. Flight crews and aircraft operators are therefore not alerted to any conflict in the area by NOTAM.
Traffic is being rerouted to other airways by ATC, but it’s not clear, or likely, that there has been any risk assessment. European flights are now using UN321/UG300, and UL432 – all of which come exceptionally close to the conflict zone. As we’ve learned from MH17 and PS752, just because airspace is open and available, does not mean it is safe.
The Ethiopian Army shot down an Embraer 120 in May 2020, in Somalia. The Ethiopian Air Force shot down a US Learjet in August 1999 in the Eritrean border region. Both were misidentified.
No guidance to operators
No aviation authorities or official sources have issued any guidance or warnings to date via normal channels.
Rapid Escalation of Conflict
The situation has intensified rapidly, and is extremely unpredictable and unstable. The impact on aviation has not been widely reported.
Enroute – Overflight:
If you’re transiting any airspace near or over Ethiopia, Eritrea, or Sudan, take a close look at the map and cross check the airways you are operating on. Several open airways are exceptionally close to the Conflict Zone. Just because they are open does not mean they are safe.
Landing – Airports:
Airports in the north of Ethiopia, including the Tigray and Amhara regions, are unsafe at present. Many are closed. There have been missile attacks on HABD/Bahir Dar, and HAGN/Gondar. HHAS/Asmara in Eritrea should be avoided – missile attack on Nov 14, 2020.
The Conflict Zone & Risk Database at SafeAirspace.net contains all current published warnings and alerts for Ethiopia and Eritrea.
The countries that issue the most relevant updates for unsafe airspace are:
• US (FAA) – through Notams and SFARs
• UK (DFT) – by Notam and then AIP
• Germany (BMVI) – by Notam
• France (DGAC) – by AIC
Note: Operators should not rely on EASA Conflict Zone Information Bulletins (CZIB)’s as a primary source of information. These serve only as pointers to the above sources, and often are not issued until several months after updates, if at all. Note that the Civil Aviation Authorities of the countries whose airspace is determined to be unsafe are unlikely to issue reliable guidance.
This information is compiled from OPSGROUP member input, information, intelligence and analysis. If you have additional information to share, please send it to email@example.com.
Members: More information
OPSGROUP Members: More information in the discussion in the Forum about Ethiopia/Eritrea:
Forum > International Ops > New Conflict Zone Ethiopia/Eritrea
All links to further resources are there.
More on the topic:
- More: Ethiopia Airspace Update
- More: Military coup in Sudan: Impact to ops
- More: Assessing the Risk: Operations Over Conflict Zones
- More: Chad Airspace Update
- More: SafeAirspace: 2021 Update