By Constantinos Psillides
A DRAMATIC increase in the number of flights heard flying over northern Nicosia is down to the temporary suspension of a ground air-control system at Tymbou (Ercan) airport in the north, the Republic’s civil aviation department (DCA) has said.
With its own airport out of action since 1974, Nicosia is probably the quietest capital city in the world when it comes to the constant roar of aircraft flying overhead. Usually, just a few flights a day leaving from Tymbou (Ercan) can be heard by those living close to the city’s green line.
In recent weeks, many more have been observed.
The temporary suspension of the ground air-control system at the airport has meant pilots have to fly by sight when taking off, resulting in the aircrafts flying slightly off their usual course, a DCA official told the Sunday Mail.
“Pilots employ what we call visual flight. When taking off from Ercan they have to pass over the Pentadaktylos mountains and without a ground navigational system they tend to veer a little to the left so they can gain more altitude when they approach the mountain. That’s why some people reported seeing more planes,” said the official who did not want to be named.
On October 1, Tymbou (Ercan) disabled the airport’s VHF Omni Directional Radio Range (VOR) navigational system, a ground short-range radio that enables aircraft to determine their position and stay on course by receiving radio signals.
The VOR has been taken down for a month and until it’s operational again, pilots have to land and take off based on sight. The VOR is needed for aircraft instrument approach procedures, a series of predetermined manoeuvres from the beginning of the initial approach to a landing.
Asked if there was any danger in the airport disabling their VOR, the official was reassuring.
“There is absolutely no danger. First of all, airplanes leaving Ercan are not allowed to fly over the government-controlled areas. Secondly, planes flying there usually fly at a low altitude, at 21,000 ft., which is about 10,000 ft. lower than the altitude commercial planes fly.
Additionally, aircrafts flying off or coming into Ercan appear on our radar screens so we direct other aircrafts away from their flight path. We know exactly which aircraft is in the air and its exact location,” said the official, adding that only flights coming from the east need to be directed away from Tymbou (Ercan) air-traffic.
Airplanes flying to the north do not submit their flight plan to Eurocontrol, the organisation based in Brussels that coordinates air traffic control for all of Europe, but submit it directly to Ercan.
While this is a minor problem for the Republic’s air-traffic controllers, the official said that it was nothing that could not be taken care off.
The official pointed out that air-traffic in and out of Tymbou (Ercan) had also increased due to the summer season.
“From January 2014 to May 2014 we registered 170 take-offs and landings at Ercan. There was a 10 per cent increase in recent months, due to the summer season. The air-traffic exclusively comes from Turkey,” said the official.
Asked whether the increase in air-traffic over Nicosia might also be due to jets flying from the RAF base at Akrotiri on their way to carry out sorties over Iraq, the official said that no aircraft from Akrotiri had flown over Nicosia yet but that could change at any moment.
“They can certainly fly over Nicosia, if they want to, but they haven’t done so yet. They have the option to do so, if they like,” he said.