Weaponised ATC raises collusion fears in Somali airspace

Weaponised ATC raises collusion fears in Somali airspace
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This is a potential nightmare for civil aviation, AIN said, as it appears air traffic control over the busy Horn of Africa airspace has been politically weaponised.

KAMPALA | Airlines operating the disputed Somali-Somaliland airspace is operating with fears with their aircraft receiving conflicting transmissions.

The bogus transmissions from Air Traffic Control (ATC) are dangerous, with flight captains potentially being given altitude clearance that clashes with what another aircraft in the airspace has received.

On February 19, the Aviation International News (AIN) reported that over the previous weekend, International Flight Operatios,

OpsGroup members are reporting air traffic controller calls from unsanctioned sources.

, shared news of at least 10 reports of fake controllers operating on Mogadishu flight information region (FIR) frequencies and issuing instructions contrary to those given by the authentic sector controller.

Last weekend, reports surfaced that an Ethiopian Airline plane bound for Dubai, UAE, had almost collided with a Qatar Airways plane headed for Entebbe, Uganda, after receiving wrong signals from Mogadishu.

The Nile Post has contacted the airlines for comments on the matter. Ashenafi Zeray, the Ethiopian Airline communications manager, said he would get back on the matter.

"It's a widespread problem connected to the Houthi rebels," said aviation journalist Michael Wakabi.

"They've been doing that for a while. Crews have been advised to ignore instructions from unknown sources."

In the recent past, the Yemeni Houthis have also targeted a British Airways flight from Singapore to London with similar bogus ATC orders.

This is a potential nightmare for civil aviation, AIN said, as it appears air traffic control over the busy Horn of Africa airspace has been politically weaponised.

The impacted area was confined mostly to the northern part of Mogadishu airspace, AIN said.

According to OpsGroup, the fake instructions emanated from Hargeisa in Somaliland on VHF frequency 132.5 and HF 11300.

The Somaliland Civil Aviation and Airports Authority said in a statement last week that any problems and disruptions that occur in relation to the bogus ATC will be the responsibility of the Mogadishu government.

The ATC transmissions from Hargeisa are designed to mimic official ones from Mogadishu Control and are not identified as separate or distinct from it, according to OpsGroup, and are designed to sow confusion as opposed to traffic deconfliction.

Conflicting signals can potentially cause air crash if two planes are in proximity of each other.

While crews to the Horn of Africa are warned to disregard conflicting ATC, Wakabi says they are susceptible because if they are flying long haul, they are close to fatigue by the time they get into that airspace.

The impacted airspace is one of the main and most direct routes between the Middle East and Asia into Africa. Several other countries in the area — Yemen and the Tigray region of Eritrea and Ethiopia — are designated no-fly areas.

Somaliland is an unrecognised state that is considered part of Somalia, but since 1991 it has functioned autonomously and sought independence.

It is bordered to the south and west by Ethiopia.

In January, Somaliland signed an agreement with Ethiopia that granted Red Sea port rights in exchange for official recognition.

Somalia condemned the move and retaliated by selectively blocking aircraft movements in and out of Somaliland with Mogadishu Control, denying entry of this traffic into the Mogadishu FIR.

Somaliland countered by asserting airspace control over its claimed territory, announced via an international aviation advisory and accompanying press release issued on February 13.

Somalia previously backed out of an agreement brokered by the United Nations that would have established joint management of the airspace with Somaliland and asserted unilateral authority in 2018, revoking flight permissions and imposing new regulations.

 

Additional report from AIN

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