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Conflicting ATC instructions over Somalia threaten airline safety

Saturday February 24, 2024


Mogadishu (HOL) - Amid a prolonged political standoff between Somalia and the self-proclaimed territory of Somaliland, aviation safety takes center stage as conflicting air traffic control (ATC) instructions pose a grave threat to flights navigating Somali airspace.

Recent reports from aviation monitoring organizations have shed light on a troubling pattern: aircraft within the Mogadishu Flight Information Region (FIR) receiving conflicting directives from unauthorized controllers. These transmissions, originating from Hargeisa in Somaliland, mimic legitimate ATC communications, introducing confusion and potential dangers for pilots and passengers.
According to OPSGROUP, at least ten such incidents have been reported.

Somalia has accused Somaliland of "jamming" air traffic communications within the Mogadishu FIR. Officials say the unauthorized communications deliberately obfuscate their origin, choosing not to identify themselves as "Hargeisa Control" or "Somaliland Control," further complicating an already precarious situation.

The underlying cause of this alarming trend lies in the intricate political dynamics of the region. Having declared independence from Somalia in 1991 but lacking international recognition, Somaliland finds itself embroiled in a territorial dispute over airspace control. Tensions escalated when Somaliland brokered a deal with Ethiopia, exchanging port rights for recognition, eliciting retaliatory measures from Somalia.

The airspace rights dispute has escalated recently, with the Somali Civil Aviation Authority (SCAA) actively blocking flights destined for Hargeisa, the capital of Somaliland. Notably, an Ethiopian Airlines flight on January 17, was forced to return to Addis Ababa after being denied entry into Somali airspace. The plane reportedly carried senior Ethiopian officials en route to meet with Somaliland counterparts to discuss their recently signed Memorandum of Understanding (MoU).

Somalia has responded firmly to what it perceives as unauthorized airspace usage, with the SCAA asserting complete control over Somali airspace and imposing temporary suspensions, albeit briefly.

The risks posed by conflicting ATC instructions are substantial. Pilots relying on erroneous directives face the potential for mid-air collisions, unauthorized altitude changes, and other catastrophic incidents. The confusion introduced by these unauthorized transmissions undermines core principles of air safety, imperilling the lives of those aboard and compromising global air travel networks.

Efforts to mitigate these risks are underway, with aviation authorities issuing protocols for pilots to follow in case of conflicting instructions. Moreover, international organizations such as the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the International Air Transport Association (IATA) are actively involved in diplomatic efforts to address the underlying political tensions fueling the airspace dispute.


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