There is an increased risk of air collisions in the Nicosia Flight Information Region (FIR), according to an internal report compiled by the European Aviation Safety Agency.
The Association Press (AP) has just acquired a statistical analysis dated 2015, which shows that safety risks are no longer acceptable within a sizable section of the Nicosia FIR.
The civil aviation department and the Mediterranean Flight Safety Foundation told ‘Cyprus Mail’ on Monday that the risk of an air collision over the Nicosia Flight Information Region exists, but measures are being taken to ensure that those risks are minimised.
The number of times when the distance between two aircraft was less than specified by international law in the Nicosia FIR was six in 2014, seven in 2013 and four in 2012. The planes have to be 10 miles apart when they are on the same level and 1,000 feet apart vertically.
“This could mean that they were nine miles apart or any other distance,” chief of operations of the civil aviation Persephoni Papadopoulou told Cyprus Mail.
Despite the fact that nine miles appears to be sufficiently far enough apart to avoid any chance of collision, the minimum legal distances of ten miles and 1,000 feet are selected not only because of the main factor of a possible collision, but also the effects of secondary elements such as sudden changes in weather conditions and wake turbulence, the air disturbance created as an aircraft passes through the atmosphere.
“The problem has existed for several years and has been recognised by the European air safety control,” head of the Mediterranean Flight Safety Foundation Christos Petrou said.
“There are three reasons. The main one is that Ankara doesn’t recognise the Cyprus government. The second is that the illegal air control at Ercan airport [in the north] is confusing pilots by giving them instructions which are conflicting with the one of the official air traffic control. Also, the Turkish air force gives no notification of its flights putting people in danger.”
The problem effects a very large region. The area controlled by internationally recognised Nicosia FIR is 175,000 square kilometres, with boundaries close to Turkey and Rhodes. This means an annual air traffic of 150,000 to 180,000 planes which fly from Europe to the Far East and other countries. However, the Ercan air control and Turkey consider the northern third of this space under their control, the civil aviation department said.
To try and gain a better understanding of air traffic patterns, a separate study, which has not been made public, was carried out in 2015 and appropriate measures were decided upon. Officials say they have been doing their best to minimise the risks.
“We have a wide radar coverage and can see when planes enter the region. We also let pilots know they should not obey when they receive instructions from the north and tell them to call our call centre 10 minutes before they enter the zone so we can monitor the flights,” Papadopoulou explained.