Cyprus’ Rival Air Traffic Controls ‘Increase Risks’, Says EU Report

Flying over parts of Cyprus is made more dangerous by the fact that rival air traffic control centers on the ethnically split island are giving instructions to planes, creating “confusion and misunderstanding” among pilots, a report by Europe’s air safety agency says.

The internal 2015 report compiled by the European Aviation Safety Agency, and seen by The Associated Press says a statistical analysis shows that overall, the risks are acceptable as the probability of a “catastrophic” accident occurring is very small.

For example, the report states that the mean expected accident frequency between two aircraft over Cyprus is about one in a billion.

But the agency said the situation inside a sizeable part of the Nicosia Flight Information Region — a 175,000 square kilometer (67,567 sq. mile) swathe of airspace over and around Cyprus — is getting to the point where risks to safety can no longer be considered acceptable.

“The assessment concludes that close monitoring of the situation is needed as it is at the limit of acceptability,” the report says. “The agency recognizes that this situation is far from optimal.”

That’s because flight instructions from two different air control centers can degrade established safety margins, such as the minimum distance two aircraft can be from each other.

Only air traffic controllers in the internationally-recognized, southern part of Cyprus are permitted to issue flight instructions to aircraft passing through Nicosia FIR. Yet controllers at the unrecognized Ercan airport in the island’s breakaway Turkish Cypriot north also give instructions to aircraft flying through the northern third of Nicosia FIR that they consider their own, sometimes confusing pilots.

According to the report, which cites Cyprus statistics, there were six instances in 2014 where aircraft came closer to each other than the minimum allowed distance. That followed seven such instances in 2013, and another four the year before that.

More disturbingly, there were two reported incidents in 2014 where on board systems designed to automatically avoid a mid-air collision had been activated — meaning that planes were close enough to possibly collide within around a minute.

A total of 18 such instances occurred within Cyprus airspace between 2011 and 2015, according to the database of the International Air Transport Association.

Source: Associated Press