An Air India aircraft flying to Ukraine to bring home Indians turned back for Delhi after Ukraine said it has closed its airspace amid Russian military operations in its eastern breakaway areas. Thousands of Indians are waiting to fly back home from Ukraine amid a conflict with Russia.
However, the Ukrainian authorities on Thursday, February 24 morning closed the country’s airspace for civil aircraft operations.
The Air India flight decided to turn back to Delhi after a NOTAM, or notice to airmen was sent to all flights heading to Ukraine. The government said alternate evacuation routes are being activated.
The Air India flight AI 1947 started from the Indira Gandhi International Airport (IGIA) here at around 7:30 AM for Boryspil International Airport in Kyiv. Meanwhile, a Ukraine International Airlines flight from Kyiv landed at the Delhi airport at around 7:45 AM on Thursday, February 24.
Russian President Vladimir Putin this morning allowed Russian special forces to operate in two separatist areas in Ukraine, which Russia on Monday, February 21 recognised as independent nations.
With large-scale military operations unfolding in eastern Ukraine, commercial flights would be at very high risk due to the chaotic nature of the airspace, which would likely be crowded with military anti-aircraft activity.
On its website, Ukraine State Air Traffic Services Enterprise said the country’s airspace was closed to civilian flights starting from 0045 GMT on Thursday, February 24 with air traffic services suspended.
The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) said airspace in Russia and Belarus within 100 nautical miles of their borders with Ukraine could also pose safety risks.
“In particular, there is a risk of both intentional targeting and misidentification of civil aircraft,” the agency said in a conflict zone bulletin. “The presence and possible use of a wide range of ground and airborne warfare systems pose a high risk for civil flights operating at all altitudes and flight levels.”
The aviation industry has taken heightened notice of the risks conflicts to pose to civil aviation since Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine in 2014.
EASA said Russia’s defence ministry had sent Ukraine an urgent message warning of high risk to flight safety, due to the use of weapons and military equipment from 0045 GMT, and asked Ukraine’s air traffic control to stop flights.
Websites that had shown intelligence-gathering flights over or near Ukraine as the West deliberately showcased support by transmitting detectable signals in recent weeks showed space as aircraft left and Ukraine was declared a conflict zone.
Hours earlier, Safe Airspace, which was set up to provide safety and conflict zone information after the downing of MH17, said it had increased its risk level over Ukraine to “do not fly”. It also warned of the potential for a cyberattack on Ukraine’s air traffic control.
Russia said on Thursday, February 24 it had suspended domestic flights to and from several airports near its border with Ukraine, including Rostov-on-Don, Krasnodar and Stavropol, until March 2.
Russia has also closed some airspace in the Rostov sector “to provide safety” for civil aviation flights, a notice to airmen showed.
Before Ukraine advised of the airspace curbs, Britain, Canada, France, Italy and the United States had told their airlines to avoid certain airspace above eastern Ukraine and Crimea, but stopped short of a total ban.
Last week, two Ukrainian airlines disclosed problems in securing insurance for some flights while foreign carriers began avoiding the country’s airspace as Russia massed a huge military force on its border.
(With Inputs from Reuters)