Ukraine closes airspace to civilian flights as part of Russian military action

  • Risks of intentional targeting, misidentification – EASA
  • Dangers associated with flying in border areas – EASA
  • Russia has closed part of the airspace east of the Ukrainian border

Feb 24 (Reuters) – Ukraine on Thursday closed its airspace to civilian flights, citing a high security risk, while Europe’s aviation regulator also warned of the dangers of flying in border areas of Russia and Belarus, due to military activities.

Russian President Vladimir Putin authorized a military operation in eastern Ukraine in what appeared to be the start of war in Europe. Read more

On its website, Ukraine State Air Traffic Services Enterprise said the country’s airspace was closed to civilian flights from 00:45 GMT on Thursday, with air traffic services suspended.

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The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) said airspace in Russia and Belarus within 100 nautical miles of their borders with Ukraine could also pose safety risks.

“In particular, there is a risk of both intentional targeting and misidentification of civilian aircraft,” the agency said in a conflict zone bulletin.

“The presence and possible use of a wide range of ground and airborne warfare systems presents a high risk to civilian flights operating at all altitudes and flight levels.”

The aviation industry has become more aware of the risks that conflict poses to civil aviation since Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine in 2014.

EASA said the Russian Defense Ministry sent an urgent message to Ukraine warning of a high risk to flight safety, due to the use of weapons and military equipment from 0045 GMT, and asked Ukrainian air traffic control to stop the flights.

Websites that had shown intelligence-gathering flights over or near Ukraine as the West deliberately showed support by transmitting detectable signals in recent weeks showed a blank space as the planes departed and that Ukraine was declared a conflict zone. Read more

Early morning air traffic skirted the entire country in crowded northern and western corridors.

An El Al flight from Tel Aviv to Toronto abruptly turned back out of Ukrainian airspace as it closed, flight tracking website FlightRadar24 showed.

A LOT Polish Airlines flight from Warsaw to Kyiv also returned to Warsaw around the same time.

Hours earlier, Safe Airspace, which was set up to provide security and conflict zone information after the downing of MH17, said it had increased its risk level over Ukraine to “not not steal”.

He also warned of the potential for a cyber attack on Ukrainian air traffic control.

Russia said on Thursday it had suspended domestic flights to and from several airports near its border with Ukraine, including Rostov-on-Don, Krasnodar and Stavropol, until March 2.

Russia has also closed part of the airspace in the Rostov sector “in order to ensure the safety” of civil aviation flights, a notice to airmen said.

Before Ukraine was informed of the airspace restrictions, Britain, Canada, France, Italy and the United States had told their airlines to avoid certain airspace above eastern Ukraine and Crimea, but did not achieve a total ban.

German Lufthansa (LHAG.DE) halted flights to Ukraine from Monday, joining KLM which had already suspended flights. Read more

Last week, two Ukrainian airlines revealed insurance problems for some flights while foreign carriers began avoiding the country’s airspace as Russia massed a huge military force on its border.

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Reporting by Jamie Freed in Sydney and Tim Hepher in Paris; Editing by Gerry Doyle and Clarence Fernandez

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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