South Sudan’s airspace remains on caution list


(Posted 10th January 2015)

The lack of a comprehensive political settlement between the two warring parties in South Sudan has now resulted in both the European Aviation Safety Agency and their American counterparts, the FAA, maintaining warnings to airlines crossing through the airspace of Africa’s youngest country.

In an end of year communique did the world’s two leading aviation regulators maintain their guidance not to fly below 26.000 feet, aka FL260, or else risk to become a target for trigger happy combatants using small arms, anti aircraft cannons or even shoulder launched surface to air missiles. With some aircraft falling victim to such attacks, some quite deliberate and others due to a lack of discipline as a result of incompetent or else absent local leadership, does the warning remain current and ongoing and should be heeded by all airlines flying into and across South Sudan’s airspace.

While not binding, i.e. only a guideline, does the statement by EASA make stark reading and ought to trigger strict observance lest inviting disaster: ‘Considering current safety risks in South Sudan airspace, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) recommends all operators to exercise extreme caution if planning to fly into, out of, within or above the affected area and to monitor all relevant information, including NOTAMs. National Aviation Authorities should ensure that operators under their oversight are aware of such information’.

It was the shooting down by Russian backed separatists in the Ukraine of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 in mid 2014 which triggered a wave of such warnings for other conflict areas around the world and airlines and national regulators now pay much more attention to their flight paths and flight levels when having to cross potentially hostile territories.

Flights to and from Juba are not really affected by these directives and guidelines given by the FAA and the EASA’ was a local regulatory source swift to point out yesterday when asked to comment. ‘There was no conflict in the area where flights from Entebbe and Nairobi enter their airspace and then descend into Juba. Even when leaving their flight path remains well off areas which are more critical and where the warnings make sense’ did the source then add, clearly trying to alleviate fears that air traffic from Uganda or Kenya could in any way be in danger. Notably though does it appear that aviation regulators in the region have not issued warnings of their own, at least none which are known to this correspondent, leaving such issues to international bodies, perhaps to avoid getting into hot political waters with their neighbours?

For breaking and regular aviation news from Eastern Africa look no further but this space.

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