Group: Turkish drones in Cyprus endanger commercial flights
NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) - A Turkish drone base in the breakaway north of ethnically divided Cyprus could increase the security risks for thousands of commercial flights crossing the airspace around the eastern Mediterranean island, an aviation safety group warned on Tuesday.
FSF-Med, an NGO affiliated with the Washington, DC-based International Flight Safety Foundation, said the proposed modernization of the Turkish Air Force Base in Gecitkale - called Lefkoniko in Greek - could create a communication and coordination problem between aviation authorities in the country Turkey and Cyprus have been tightening flight safety for years.
An intelligence report received from The Associated Press suggests that the Gecitkale base will be expanded to include both armed and unarmed Bayraktar TV2 drones, surveillance planes, training planes and advanced fighter jets.
Cyprus was split into a breakaway Turkish Cypriot north and an internationally recognized Greek Cypriot south in 1974 when Turkey invaded after a coup by unification supporters with Greece.
The Turkish Cypriots declared an independent state almost a decade later, but only Turkey recognizes it. Although Turkish Cypriots say they control air traffic in the airspace in the northern half of Cyprus, the aviation authorities including the International Civil Aviation Organization do not recognize it.
Despite this, the Turkish and Turkish Cypriot air traffic control authorities do not communicate with the internationally recognized ATC Nicosia in the south of the island and often issue contradicting instructions to civil aircraft flying past, which in the past has led to numerous near-misses between passenger aircraft, which the AP uncovered in 2011.
The risk is heightened because Turkish military planes do not share flight plans with Cypriot government agencies and could fly close to civilian planes.
The International Federation of Air Line Pilots ’Associations (IFALPA) cited a recent study by the European Union's Aviation Safety Authority (EASA) that the potential impact of such conflicting instructions on civil jets" could affect flight safety for aircraft operating in the region ". The same study recorded 166 "incidents" within ATC Nicosia controlled airspace in 2019 without specifying the exact nature of the incidents. The same study found that there were 276, 260 and 254 "incidents" between 2016 and 2018, respectively.
The FSF-MED said it would urge international and European aviation safety authorities to express their concerns about the added risks posed by the drone base and urge them to force Turkey to comply with international aviation safety regulations.
"FSF-MED will also emphasize that responsibility in the event of an accident lies not only with Turkey, which violates international rules, but also with those who could have forced the country to stop its violations but did not," the organization said.
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