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Alert over Syria missile threat makes airlines edgy

April 13, 2018 Headline News No Comments Email Email

The Syrian crisis is casting a shadow over international travel, with airlines rerouting flights over the Middle East/Eastern Mediterranean region after a warning from Europe’s air traffic control agency to exercise caution due to possible missile strikes into Syria.

No long-haul international commercial flights pass over Syria (though Syrian Air and Lebanon’s Middle East Airlines both fly within Syrian airspace) but a lot of flight paths head around Syria (see graphic below). No airline wants its planes to be close to incoming missiles, fighter planes or worse.

EU air traffic control agency Eurocontrol issued a Rapid Alert Notification for possible airstrikes on Syria that could affect aircraft flying in the eastern Mediterranean.

“Due to the possible launch of air strikes into Syria with air-to-ground and/or cruise missiles within the next 72 hours, and the possibility of intermittent disruption of radio navigation equipment, due consideration needs to be taken when planning flight operations in the Eastern Mediterranean/Nicosia FIR area,” Eurocontrol said, referring to the designated airspace.

The situation escalated yesterday after bellicose tweets by US President Donald Trump, taunting Russia.

Trump has promised a “forceful” response to an alleged chemical attack in Syria. US Defence Secretary James Mattis has cancelled travel plans for the week, Trump has also cancelled travel plans and Britain has started moving submarines within missile range of Syria. Russia has warned against any “illegal military adventure”, saying it will shoot down any missiles and possibly target the launch sites as well.

A spokeswoman for Air France told the Cyprus Mail the airline had changed some flights paths following the Eurocontrol warning, including those heading to Beirut and Tel Aviv. Low-cost carrier easyJet also says it will re-route flights from Tel Aviv.

No long-haul international commercial flights pass over Syria but a lot of flight paths head around it. FlightRadar24

 

A spokesman for Germany’s Lufthansa said on Wednesday it was aware of the Eurocontrol warning and as a proactive precaution, Lufthansa Group airlines were already avoiding the airspace in the eastern Mediterranean.

Aviation regulators monitor conflict zones more rigorously since 2014, the year Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was shot down by a surface-to-air missile over Ukraine, killing all 298 people aboard.

Heightened international tension is always bad for tourism, and as this round involves Russia and the US, which possess the world’s biggest nuclear arsenals, a lot of people are taking notice.

The worst-case scenario is that the US and Russia come into direct conflict, which could lead to an escalation beyond Syria’s borders with unknown consequences. A report in Russia’s Kommersant newspaper last night, however, suggested the US may have quietly indicated to Russia the targets it intends to hit in Syria, to avoid accidentally striking Russian facilities or military assets.

Trump is unpredictable and may bide his time, change his mind or back down. His tweets are usually aimed at US domestic audiences and his latest on Syria keeps everyone guessing.

“We’ll see what happens, folks!” he said this morning.

 

Written by Peter Needham

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