A Turkish ‘spy plane’ on Thursday flew over a section of the island’s offshore Block 6 where a drillship is currently prospecting for natural gas.
The Turkish aircraft’s activities were first reported on by media in Greece. Media also said the plane made a low pass at 4,500 feet over the area in Block 6.
The Tungsten Explorer rig, drilling on behalf of Total and ENI, arrived in Block 6 of Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone in late May.
A government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed the presence of the Turkish plane.
The official told the Cyprus News Agency that the aircraft – which flew inside the Nicosia Flight Information Region or FIR – had submitted a flight plan to Eurocontrol.
The plane adhered to its flight plan and did not violate the Notam – Notice to Airmen – which Cypriot authorities had earlier issued concerning traffic restrictions around the area in which the drillship is operating.
According to the same source, the Turkish aircraft was flying at an altitude of 29,000 metres. By contrast, the Cypriot traffic advisory for the drillship covers five nautical miles and up to 3,000 metres altitude.
Regarding the plane’s violation of the Nicosia FIR, the official said: “Of course there is an issue there.”
Any activities by foreign nations within the Nicosia FIR require the prior approval of Cyprus. The Nicosia FIR covers an expanse far larger than the Exclusive Economic Zone.
Turkey does not recognise the Republic of Cyprus.
Earlier in the day, media reports said the Turkish aircraft was picked up by both Cypriot and Greek radar. After making a pass over Block 6, the plane turned west and flew south of the Greek island of Kastelorizo, before re-entering Turkey’s FIR.
Social media purported to identify the aircraft as a Turkish navy ATR-72, a civilian plane configured as a maritime patrol aircraft.
Turkey currently has three ATR-72s in service.