An internal report compiled by the European Aviation Safety Agency says there is an increased risk of planes colliding in the Nicosia Flight Information Region (FIR), the Associated Press reported on Monday.
According to the news agency a statistical analysis dated 2015, but only just obtained by the AP, shows that issues inside a sizeable part of the Nicosia FIR are getting to the point where safety risks can no longer be considered acceptable.
A risk of aircrafts colliding over the Nicosia flight information region exists, the civil aviation department and the Mediterranean Flight Safety Foundation told the Cyprus Mail on Monday but measures are being taken to ensure that the risk is at a minimum.
The number of times when the distance between two aircraft was less than specified by international law in the Nicosia Flight Information Region was six in 2014, seven in 2013 and four in 2012. The planes have to be 10 miles apart when they are on the same level and 1,000 feet apart vertically.
“This could mean that they were nine miles apart or any other distance,” chief of operations of the civil aviation Persephoni Papadopoulou told the Cyprus Mail.
Though even nine miles apart seems far enough to avoid any chance of collision, the minimum legal distances of ten miles and 1,000 feet are chosen not only because of the primary factor of a possible collision, but also the effects of secondary factors such as sudden changes in the weather conditions and wake turbulence, the disturbance which forms as an aircraft passes through the air.
“The problem has existed for several years and has been recognised by the European air safety control,” head of the Mediterranean Flight Safety Foundation Christos Petrou said.
“There are three reasons. The main one is that Ankara doesn’t recognise the Cyprus government. The second is that the illegal air control at Ercan airport [in the north] is confusing pilots by giving them instructions which are conflicting with the one of the official air traffic control. Also, the Turkish air force gives no notification of its flights putting people in danger.”
The problem involves a vast area. The region controlled by internationally recognised Nicosia region is 175,000 square kilometres, with boundaries close to Turkey and Rhodes. This means an annual air traffic of 150,000 to 180,000 planes which fly from Europe to the Far East and other countries. However, the Ercan air control and Turkey consider the northern third of this space under their control, the civil aviation department said.
Officials say they are doing their best to keep the risk to a minimum. In order to better understand what is going on a separate study, which has not been made public, was carried out in 2015 and relevant measures were decided.
“We have a wide radar coverage and can see when planes enter the region. We also let pilots know they should not obey when they receive instructions from the north and tell them to call our call centre 10 minutes before they enter the zone so we can monitor the flights,” Papadopoulou explained.