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Amid Russian military operations, Ukraine limits airspace to civilian flights

A screen recording of flight tracking website FlightRadar24 shows aircraft diverting around Ukraine, February 24, 2022 in this still image taken from video. FLIGHTRADAR24.COM/via Reuters TV/Handout via REUTERS

On Thursday, Ukraine banned its airspace to civilian planes, claiming a significant risk of safety, while Europe’s aviation body warned of the dangers of flying near Russia and Belarus due to military activity.

A woman looks on as a business jet airplane takes off in Kyiv, Ukraine September 17, 2021. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich

The news: In what appeared to be the start of a European war, Russian President Vladimir Putin authorised a military intervention in eastern Ukraine.

  • Ukraine State Air Traffic Services Enterprise announced on its website that the country’s airspace would be blocked to civilian flights starting at 0045 GMT on Thursday, and that air traffic services would be discontinued.
  • Airspace in Russia and Belarus within 100 nautical miles of their Ukrainian borders, according to the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), could constitute a safety risk.
  • “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 poses a high risk for civil flights operating at all altitudes and flight levels.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin authorized a special military operation in Ukraine’s Donbass region in the early hours of Thursday morning and told the Ukrainian military to lay down their weapons and go home

What’s going on: According to EASA, Russia’s defence ministry issued Ukraine an urgent communication warning of a severe danger to flight safety due to the use of weapons and military equipment beginning at 0045 GMT, and requesting that flights be halted.

  • In recent weeks, websites that had shown intelligence-gathering flights over or near Ukraine as the West purposefully demonstrated support by emitting detectable signals showed empty space when planes left and Ukraine was declared a combat zone.
  • In busy corridors to the north and west, early morning airline traffic skirted the whole country.
  • According to flight tracking service FlightRadar24, an El Al aeroplane from Tel Aviv to Toronto made a rapid U-turn out of Ukraine’s airspace around the time of the shutdown.
  • Around the same time, a LOT Polish Airlines flight from Warsaw to Kyiv returned to Warsaw.
  • Safe Airspace, which was established following the downing of MH17 to give safety and conflict zone information, had upgraded its risk level over Ukraine to “do not fly” just hours before.
  • It also expressed concern about the possibility of a cyberattack on Ukraine’s air traffic control system.
Ukrainian military command centres in the cities of Kyiv and kharkiv have been attacked by missile strikes, the Ukrainska Pravda news website cited a Ukrainian interior ministry official as saying on Thursday.

What’s important: Russia announced on Thursday that domestic flights to and from numerous airports near the Ukrainian border, including Rostov-on-Don, Krasnodar, and Stavropol, had been suspended until March 2.

  • According to a notification to airmen, Russia has also blocked some airspace in the Rostov area “in order to provide safety” for civil aviation operations.
  • Prior to Ukraine’s announcement of the airspace restrictions, the United Kingdom, Canada, France, Italy, and the United States had recommended their airlines to avoid particular airspace above eastern Ukraine and Crimea, but had stopped short of imposing a complete ban.
  • Lufthansa, a German airline, has banned flights to Ukraine as of Monday, joining KLM in doing so.
  • As Russia massed a massive military force on its border, two Ukrainian airlines had issues obtaining insurance for some flights, and foreign carriers began avoiding the country’s airspace.
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