NICOSIA – Cyprus authorities say they are taking extra efforts to ensure flight safety is not compromised by Turkish warplanes and military drones flying inside Cypriot-monitored airspace without filing flight plans or communicating with air traffic control.
The issue of unregulated Turkish military flights came to the forefront earlier this month when Cypriot authorities reported that a Turkish warplane “illegally” flew at a low altitude over a United Nations-controlled buffer zone that spans the ethnically-divided island nation, believed to be a surveillance mission.
Late Wednesday, the Cyprus government informed The Associated Press, “Despite these illegal acts by Turkey and the illegal operation of the self-styled air traffic control by the secessionist entity, the Department of Civil Aviation of Cyprus is making every effort to ensure the safe provision of air traffic services within the Nicosia FIR in its entirety.”
Although the International Civil Aviation Authority recognizes the Cyprus government as the sole air traffic authority within the island’s 175,000-square-kilometer (67,567-square-mile) Flight Information Region (FIR), Turkish Cypriots have declared their own airspace in the north and manage direct flights to and from an airport in the north, which saw a total of 23,224 arrivals and departures last year.
However, passenger jets traversing Cyprus’ FIR have received conflicting flight instructions, leading to confusion and misunderstandings among pilots. The European air safety agency states that the risk of an accident is extremely remote but acknowledges instances in the past where aircraft came dangerously close to each other due to these contradictory instructions.
Turkey does not recognize Cyprus as a state and is the only country to recognize the breakaway Turkish Cypriot state in the island’s northern third. The Turkish Cypriots declared independence almost a decade after a 1974 Turkish invasion triggered by a coup aimed at unifying with Greece.
Turkey maintains a significant military force and numerous military installations in the north, including an airfield where military drones are known to operate.
Turkish Cypriot authorities argue that there are “two sovereign states” on Cyprus, each with effective control over their own territory, including their airspace. In a statement to the AP, they accuse Cypriot government authorities of being confrontational and issuing potentially misleading instructions to pilots. They call for dialogue and cooperation.