Authorities reopened the upper airspace over the republic of Kosovo to civilian overflights on April 3, 15 years after it closed because of the ethnic war in the former Yugoslavian territory. The action will lead to shorter flight routes in the region and represents “a significant step toward aviation normalization in the Western Balkans,” Eurocontrol announced.
The reopening concerns the airspace band from 20,500 to 66,000 feet. Eurocontrol estimates that allowing operators access to that airspace means that 180,000 flights will fly 370,000 fewer nautical miles each year, cutting $25 million (€18 million) in operating costs and commensurate levels of fuel burn and C02 emissions. “This south-east axis is a major traffic flow in Europe and it needs to run smoothly,” said Joe Sultana, Eurocontrol director of network management. “Opening up these five direct routes at the center of this axis has not only been good for airspace users but the air traffic management network as a whole benefits. For us, this is a significant improvement to the European network.”
The North Atlantic Council, the decisionmaking body of NATO, agreed to reopen the airspace after accepting Hungary’s offer to manage it through its air navigation service provider, Hungarocontrol. Under United Nations Resolution 1244 and a military technical agreement signed in 1999, NATO’s Kosovo Force (KFOR), an international peacekeeping force, retains authority over the airspace, while Hungarocontrol serves as the “technical enabler” for air navigation services from its Budapest Area Control Center.
Multinational cooperation through the NATO-led Balkans Aviation Normalization Meeting, with the support of Eurocontrol, the Hungarian government, Hungarocontrol and neighboring countries, produced the agreement to reopen the airspace, Eurocontrol said.
“[B]esides technology, it is equally important for Hungary and Hungarocontrol to act as an enabler of the normalization of the regional air traffic, for the benefit of the whole European network,” said Kornel Szepessy, Hungarocontrol CEO. “The excellent cooperation with regional stakeholders, coordinated by NATO and supported by Eurocontrol, has allowed overcoming all legal, operational and technical challenges.”
In a separate development in the region, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) issued a safety information bulletin on April 3 advising aircraft operators to avoid airspace within the Simferopol flight information region (FIR) over Crimea. According to the bulletin, the Russian Federation has issued a series of notices to airmen modifying the FIR, which is Ukraine’s responsibility, and signaling its intent to provide air traffic services (ATS) in the same airspace. “Due to the unsafe situation where more than one ATS provider may be controlling flights within the same airspace, from 3 April 2014, 0600 UTC onwards, consideration should be given to measures to avoid the airspace and circumnavigate the Simferopol FIR with alternative routings,” EASA said.
Responding to an inquiry from AIN, the International Air Transport Association said: “There are certain prohibitions or restrictions against certain flights in a number of countries, including but not limited to FIRS in Ukraine, Syria, Libya and Iraq.”