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Near-collision leads Ethiopian Airlines to reroute Asia-bound flights away from Somali airspace

Friday 01,March ,2024 {HMC}  Ethiopian Airlines has announced the suspension of certain flights over Somali airspace following a series of safety incidents. The decision comes after a recent near-miss between an Ethiopian Airlines A350 and a Qatar Airways 787 on Feb 17, highlighting ongoing issues with unofficial air traffic control instructions in the region. The airline, which previously routed its Asia-bound flights through Somalia, has opted to reroute through Djibouti airspace without incurring additional costs.

The most serious incident occurred when the Qatar flight was erroneously instructed to ascend, bringing it dangerously close to the Ethiopian flight on Feb 17. Both aircraft, equipped with Traffic Collision Avoidance Systems (TCAS), managed to avoid collision, maintaining a minimum separation of 500 feet.

The near collision is part of a larger pattern of airspace management issues in Somalia, including unauthorized communications and conflicting instructions to pilots. It follows a February 19 NOTAM by Mogadishu Control warning of unlawful VHF interference within its airspace.

Mesfen Tassew, Ethiopian Airlines’ General Manager, cited inadequate safety measures from Somali air traffic controllers as the primary reason for the halt. However, he confirmed that flights to Mogadishu and Hargeisa would continue as usual.

The Somali Minister of Transport and Aviation, MP Fardowsa Osman Egal, has expressed concerns over the unauthorized air traffic control communications, especially in the northern regions of Somalia. In response to these challenges, Somalia has introduced a new communication device for aircraft flying over Somaliland to enhance air safety. This satellite phone system, jointly managed by airlines and the Somali air traffic control office, replaces the previous VHF radio system, which has been removed from service.

The transport minister announced that the Somali government was considering rerouting all international flights into Somalia through Mogadishu as a security precaution.

The Somaliland Aviation and Airports Authority accused the Somali Air Authority of providing misleading information about the event. In contrast, the Somali Civil Aviation Authority refuted claims that the nation’s airspace is unsafe. Ahmed Moalin, the Somali Civil Aviation Authority head, assured the BBC of the airspace’s safety and reliability.

Tensions between the self-declared independent Republic of Somaliland and the Somali Federal Government have escalated due to a maritime agreement between Ethiopia and Somaliland. The political dispute has contributed to the current aviation safety concerns, with both parties accusing each other of disrupting airspace operations and communication.

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