Passenger airliners could be at risk from long-range Russian cruise missiles being fired at Syria, international air safety agencies have warned.
The European Union's aviation regulator issued a safety bulletin after Russia last week launched a barrage of missiles from warships in the Caspian Sea towards rebel targets in Syria nearly 1600km away.
The missiles' route cut across busy air corridors between Europe, the Gulf and Asia, leading the watchdog to alert airlines about their path. Airlines including Air France begun altering their routes yesterday after the bulletin to avoid the area. British Airways declined to say if it was changing routes for flights in the region. Flight tracking websites appeared to show BA flights were still crossing the Caspian yesterday. The airline said it would "never fly in airspace unless we were satisfied that it was safe to do so".
The danger of flying over war zones was highlighted last year when Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, was downed in eastern Ukraine, killing 283 people. Western governments believe the Boeing 777 cruising at 33,000ft from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was shot down by Russian-backed separatists using a surface-to-air missile. Russia denies this.
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Yesterday a US military spokesman said US cargo planes had dropped small arms ammunition to Arab groups fighting Isis (Islamic State) in northern Syria. Colonel Steve Warren, a spokesman for the US military command in charge of the anti-Isis campaign in Syria and Iraq, said that the airdrop was conducted on Monday by Air Force C-17 cargo planes. He did not identify the Arab groups that received the supplies but said their leaders had been vetted. A US official said 50 tonnes of ammunition were parachuted in.
The Obama Administration said last week that instead of trying to build a new Syrian rebel force, it will provide equipment, including ammunition, to existing Syria rebel groups who share the US goal of defeating Isis. Separately, Mustafa Bali a local Kurdish official in the northern Syrian city of Kobane said the US had provided 120 tonnes of weapons and ammunition to the main Kurdish militia fighting Isis in that area, the People's Protection Units (YPG).
Russian President Vladimir Putin said his country's air strikes against Syrian rebel targets would continue until a "political solution" can be found. Russia launched a volley of 26 cruise missiles from four different warships in the south-western Caspian a week ago. The Kalibr-NK cruise missiles crossed Iran and Iraq at low altitudes before hitting 11 targets in Syria's Raqqa, Idlib and Aleppo provinces. America says it believes at least four malfunctioned and crashed in Iran, reportedly injuring several farmers. Cruise missiles generally travel below 180m.
The United Nations air safety agency, ICAO, has sent formal letters to Russia, Turkey and Iran asking them about any threats to civil aviation. The EASA safety bulletin does not direct airlines to avoid the area, but several airlines are believed to have switched to flying over Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Changing routes can be expensive because it results in longer flight times and heavier fuel use. Lufthansa said it had made no changes to flight paths across the region.
- AP, AFP