US bans flights into and over African war zones


The US Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) has issued US airlines with new prohibition notices covering specified flights within the territories and airspace of Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Egyptian Sinai, Libya, Mali, Somalia and Kenya.

In terms of the new Special Federal Aviation Regulations (SFAR) announced by the FAA, flight prohibition notices have been issued over specified parts of the territory and airspace of Ukraine, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Yemen and the Democratic People Republic of Korea (DPRK).

The Ethiopian notice is provided in terms of Special Aviation Regulation No.87 which prohibits flights into the country by “all US air carriers or commercial operators and all persons exercising the privileges of an airman certificate issued by the FAA, unless that person is engaged in the operation of a US-registered aircraft for a foreign air carrier, and all operators using aircraft registered in the United States except where the operator of such aircraft is a foreign air carrier.”

The flight prohibition notice also prohibits all US registered aircraft and holders of FAA-issued airman certificates from conducting flight operations “within the territory and airspace of Ethiopia north of 12 degrees north latitude.”

However, the regulation does not prohibit US airmen and air operators from conducting flight operations authorised either by exemption issued by the Administrator or by an authorisation issued by another agency of the United States Government with the approval of the FAA.

The regulation also allows pilots faced with emergency situations to deviate and provide a written explanation of their actions within 10 working days of an incident. “In an emergency situation that requires immediate decision and action for the safety of the flight, the pilot in command of an aircraft may deviate from this SFAR to the extent required by that emergency.
“Except for US air carriers and commercial operators subject to the requirements, each person who deviates from this rule shall, within 10 days of the deviation, submit to the nearest FAA Flight Standards District Office a complete report of the operations of the aircraft involved in the deviation, including a description of the deviation and the reason therefor,” reads part of the Ethiopian prohibition order.

The FAA said the Ethiopia/Kenya Advisory order was issued in view of the ‘potentially hostile situation’ and warned pilots who use the Mandera Airstrip in Kenya there are high chances of being downed by neighbouring Ethiopia’s air defence systems.
“Aircraft that cross into Ethiopian airspace while taking off or landing at Mandera Airstrip in Kenya may be fired upon by Ethiopian forces. Mandera is located in the extreme north-eastern corner of Kenya, adjacent Ethiopia and Somalia. Operators considering flights to north-eastern Kenya should familiarise themselves with the situation,” the advisory says.

Special Federal Aviation Regulation 112 prohibits all US air carriers, commercial operators and all persons exercising the rights and privileges of an airman certificate issued by the authority from flying into and within the Libyan capital Tripoli’s Flight Information Region (FIR) except when such operations are authorised by the government, in emergency situations or in a US registered aircraft belonging to a foreign operator.

In Somalia, the FAA used SFAR 107 to similarly ban all flights within the territory and airspace but prescribes additional demands which include compliance with set flight levels for all aircraft.
“No person described in this regulation may conduct a flight operation within the territory and airspace of Somalia at or below Flight Level 200. Overflights of Somalia may be conducted above FL 200 subject to the approval of, and in accordance with the conditions established by the appropriate authorities of Somalia.
“Flights departing from countries adjacent to Somalia whose climb performance will not permit operation above the FL200 prior to entering Somali airspace may operate at altitudes below FL 200 to the extent necessary to permit a climb above FL200 subject to the approval and conditions established by the appropriate authorities,” the regulation states.

Flights authorised by another agency of the US government are not exempted but they must also be cleared by the FAA. The agency also banned all flights into the territory and airspace of the DRC citing a “potentially hostile” situation arising from armed rebel groups and their capability to down aircraft flying below 15 000 feet.
“The DRC has been involved in a civil war periodically since 1996; fighting there has shifted back and forth from one side of the country to the other. None of the forces involved in the regional fighting is known to have the capability of targeting aircraft at normal over flight cruising altitudes above 15 000 feet above ground level (AGL).
“Aircraft operating below 15,000 feet AGL in the DRC may come within weapons range as fighting continues. An October 1998 incident in Eastern Zaire, where a civilian B-727 was shot down by a man-portable missile, demonstrates rebel forces in DRC can and will shoot down civil aircraft they believe to be carrying government soldiers or weaponry,” the DR Congo advisory reads.

The FAA also issued a flight prohibition order for Kenya and warned of possible attacks on US and Western aircraft by armed groups using Man-Portable Air Defence Systems (MANPADS).
“Credible information indicates that a potential near-terrorist attack exists against US and Western interests in Kenya. While specific details are not available, one possible tactic would be an attack using a MANPADS such as those used against an Israeli air carrier departing from Mombasa on November 28, 2002,” the FAA said.

The US agency banned all flights into the territory and airspace of Mali saying the security situation remains fragile despite the limited success of the French-led ‘Operation Serval’ which forced Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb out of towns and back into their Sahelian desert hideouts following an eight month long occupation of the north.
“The security situation remains unstable. Extremist and militant elements, including al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and elements of AQIM, Ansar al-Dine, the Movement for Oneness and Jihad (MUJAO), and other groups continue to be present in northern Mali although they have been dislodged from major population centres, including Gao and Timbuktu.
“There is still insurgent activity in the north and west. Civil aircraft operating into, out of, within or over Mali are at risk of encountering insurgent small arms fire, rocket-propelled grenades, rocket and mortar fire, and anti-aircraft fire, to include shoulder-fired man-portable air defence systems.

The FAA also issued a prohibition order for all US operators from flying into, within or over the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula in the Cairo Flight Information Region (FIR) north of 30 degrees north latitude at or below Flight Level 240 citing violence, unrest and ongoing military operations.
“There is a risk to the safety of US civil flights operating into, out of, within or over this region from small arms, rocket-propelled grenades (RPG) anti-aircraft fire and MANPADS.
“US operators planning to fly into the Sinai Peninsula at or below FL240 must obtain current threat information, comply with applicable FAA regulations and provide advance notice of planned flights to the FAA,” reads part of the prohibition order on Egypt.

The FAA said all the notices will be reviewed periodically starting with the Egyptian order which is due to be considered on August 31. Flight risk analysts have warned civilian airliners flying through conflict zones are in danger of being mistakenly or deliberately shot down by both armed groups and government forces following a world-wide proliferation of MANPADS, some of which are in the possession of non-state actors.