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Braced for Syria strikes, some airlines reroute East Med flights (Update 3)

Air traffic control in Cyprus

Some major airlines were rerouting flights on Wednesday after Europe’s air traffic control agency warned aircraft flying in the eastern Mediterranean and Nicosia flight information area (FIR) to exercise caution due to possible air strikes into Syria.

But the head of Cyprus’ civil aviation department said no special arrangements had yet been deemed necessary concerning flights in Nicosia’s FIR.

Following a warning issued by air traffic control agency Eurocontrol on Tuesday on possible air strikes on Syria that could affect aircraft flying in the eastern Mediterranean, the head of civil aviation department, Charis Antoniades said that there was no reason for concern at the moment.

“What Eurocontrol issued is a warning,” Antoniades told state broadcaster CyBC radio.

He said that if missiles were launched off Syria, Nicosia air space would likely be affected.

“We are in contact with military authorities of several countries which are expected to operate in the region. It is expected that any action will be coordinated with us, for civil aviation purposes,” he said.

At the moment, he said, Cyprus had not been yet informed of anything.

“I don’t believe that anything will happen for which we will not be informed,” he said. He added that there is constant contact with the authorities of these countries.

In the case of any action on Syria, he said, Cyprus would take measures.

A spokeswoman for Air France said the airline had changed some flights paths following the warning, including for Beirut and Tel Aviv flights, while budget airline easyJet said it would also re-route flights from Tel Aviv.

US President Donald Trump and Western allies are discussing possible military action to punish Syria’s President Bashar Assad for a suspected poison gas attack on Saturday on a rebel-held town that had long held out against government forces.

Aviation regulators have been stepping up monitoring of conflict zones since Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was downed by a surface-to-air missile over Ukraine in 2014, killing all 298 people on board.

Recent warnings have tended to be after military action has started, and so Eurocontrol’s pre-emptive notice suggests a heightening of regulatory scrutiny.

The Eurocontrol warning on its website did not specify the origin of any potential missile threat.

“Due to the possible launch of air strikes into Syria with air-to-ground and/or cruise missiles within the next 72 hours, and the possibility of intermittent disruption of radio navigation equipment, due consideration needs to be taken when planning flight operations in the Eastern Mediterranean/Nicosia FIR area,” it said, referring to the designated airspace.

The Nicosia flight information region named in the Eurocontrol statement covers Cyprus and surrounding waters, according to a map on the agency’s website.

The same map did not designate any specific territory as being the “Eastern Mediterranean” region.

Aviation regulators in countries including the United States, Britain, France and Germany have previously issued warnings against airlines entering Syrian airspace, leading most carriers to avoid the area.

The only commercial flights above Syria as of 0115 GMT on Wednesday were being flown by Syrian Air and Lebanon’s Middle East Airlines, according to flight tracking website FlightRadar24. At other periods later in the day, there were no flights using the airspace.

Eurocontrol included a broader area outside the airspace controlled by Damascus in its statement.

A spokesman for Germany’s Lufthansa said on Wednesday its airlines were aware of the Eurocontrol warning and were in close contact with authorities.

“As a proactive precaution, Lufthansa Group airlines have already avoided the airspace in the eastern Mediterranean for some time now,” he said.

Ryanair, British Airways, Etihad Airways, and Royal Jordanian representatives said flights were operating normally at their respective airlines, but the situation was being monitored closely.

Emirates also said it was closely monitoring the situation and that it would “make adjustments as needed”.

EgyptAir is not currently planning changes to flight paths following the warning, a source close to the matter said.

Israel’s flag carrier El Al declined to comment. EgyptAir and several other major airlines that fly in the area did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

Last year, North Korea tested missiles without warning, leading some airlines to re-route flights to avoid portions of the Sea of Japan.

Eurocontrol’s warning cited a document from the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), Europe’s safety regulator.

EASA warned of a danger to aircraft flying over Iran, Iraq, and the Caspian sea in October 2015 after Russia fired cruise missiles at Syrian targets from the Caspian Sea.

An EASA spokesman said it had informed member states and Eurocontrol of its cautionary message on Tuesday



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