Nov 18, 2014
Russian warplanes risking safety of European airliners, says Nato chief
Nato fighters had intercepted Russian military aircraft over 100 times so far this year, compared with 30 such incidents in 2013.
Russia’s long-range bombers and spy planes usually stay in international airspace, but they deliberately ignore safeguards designed to reduce the risk of collision with civilian flights. In particular, they switch off the “transponders” that allow aircraft to detect one another: “The problem is that many of the Russian pilots don’t turn on their transponders, they don’t file their flight plans and they don’t communicate with civilian air traffic control. This poses a risk to civilian air traffic and therefore this is a problem, especially when the Russian activity increases – because they have more Russian military planes in the air.”
In March, a Boeing 737 from Scandinavian Airlines came within a split second of colliding with a Russian spy plane. The airliner, carrying 132 passengers, had just taken off from Copenhagen on a routine flight to Rome when it passed within 300 feet of a Russian IL-20 surveillance aircraft.
The intruder had switched off its transponders and failed to contact air traffic control. Only the quick reaction of the Scandinavian Airlines pilot – and the fact that the incident occurred in daylight and in good visibility – prevented a near miss from becoming a disaster.
Stoltenberg urged Russia to obey the “norms” of flying in crowded airspace. “It’s not illegal to fly military planes in international airspace,” he said. “But it’s not in accordance with good norms to do it without communicating with civilian air traffic control.”
“They are posing a risk and that’s the reason why we would like them to turn on their transponders, to file their flight plans and to communicate with civilian air traffic control, especially since the number of Russian planes has increased.”
Almost every week, formations of Russian bombers probe the borders of European countries, testing the reaction times of their potential adversaries and, on occasion, carrying out mock attacks.
Britain is responsible for policing thousands of square miles of airspace over the Atlantic and the North Sea. The most recent known incident occurred on Oct 29 when RAF Typhoon fighters intercepted two Russian TU-95 Bear bombers approaching over the North Sea. Both turned back before reaching British airspace.