Aviation Industry Mum on Russia’s Veiled Manpad Warning

 - March 11, 2022, 12:25 PM
Russia has issued a warning that the transfer to Ukraine of manpads, including Stinger shoulder-fired air defense systems, pose a threat to civil aviation. (Photo: Flickr: Creative Commons (BY) by The U.S. Army)

Russia has so far failed to provoke a reaction from Western aviation alphabet organizations with a recent warning about the threat to civil aircraft from surface-to-air missiles exported from the U.S. to Ukraine.  In a March 5 statement, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova cited what she called the growing threat of man-portable air-defense systems (manpads) making their way into the hands of “terrorists or illegal armed groups, not only in Ukraine, but in Europe as well,” thereby posing a “great danger” to civil aviation.

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the International Air Transport Association (IATA) declined to take a public position on the issue. In a statement to AIN, an ICAO spokesman said the body must maintain neutrality on such matters. “As a politically neutral body, the ICAO Secretariat does not comment on the positions of specific states on any issue,” it said. IATA simply refused comment, “We are not responding to this,” said an IATA spokesman.

However, ICAO also noted that Russia had not raised the matter as a diplomatic issue on which the ICAO Council could deliberate.

Nevertheless, Zakharova claimed that the Western capitals “are grossly ignoring” a number of international agreements aimed at minimizing the risk of manpads falling into the hands of “terrorist or criminal elements,” citing a 2007 United Nations General Assembly resolution against the illicit transfer and unauthorized access to manpads and an agreement adopted in 2003 under the Wassenaar Arrangement on Export Controls for Conventional Arms and Dual-Use Goods and Technologies.

Zakharova also complained of negligence shown by EU countries in re-exporting military equipment “often carried out under gross violation of the terms and conditions provided for by the certificates issued to end-users.”

“Official Brussels prefers to keep a low profile on this issue while being well aware that for many years now European criminal groups have been receiving significant numbers of small arms and light weapons from Kosovo and Ukraine, and Bulgaria and Romania, which have increased many times over the pirate production of Russian/Soviet weapons models under expired licenses or even without them,” she said.

“Once again, we call on the EU and NATO countries to stop the thoughtless flooding of the unviable Kyiv regime with the latest weapons systems in order to avoid the enormous risk to international civilian aviation and other means of transport in Europe and beyond,” Zakharova concluded.

In fact, Ukraine’s national airspace has been closed to all civil traffic since February 24, when EASA issued an urgent bulletin covering the flight information regions (FIRs) around the cities and districts of Kyiv, Lviv, Dnipropetrovsk, Simferopol, and Odesa. The agency warned operators to immediately adhere to all airspace closures and warnings, including a notam issued by Russian officials closing part of the southern Rostov FIR, close to the border between the countries.

EASA further advised that, as a safety precaution, pilots should also avoid using any airspace within 100 nm of Ukraine’s border with both Russia and its close ally, Belarus, which has closed part of its national airspace, along with Moldova, which borders Ukraine on its southwest side. So, in view of these actions, it is unclear which airspace the Russian government considers at risk to civil aircraft from Ukrainian weapons.

Meanwhile, as airlines must fly lengthy detours to avoid Russian and Ukrainian airspace, they could face new security threats and logistical problems. During an aviation conference in the UK on March 10, Matthew Borie, chief intelligence officer with security specialist Osprey Flight Solutions, warned that operators need to carefully adjust to new risk profiles as their operations departments select different alternative routes each day over regions such as the Middle East and Central Asia. “In some cases, they may be feeling pressure to find shorter routes and to take a more aggressive approach to find new routes,” he concluded.