17 Apr 2021
In assessing risk to flight over each countries borders,
two scenarios are predominant for civil flight:
1. Risk of shootdown, inadvertent or intentional.
2. Aircraft emergency requiring a landing.
Both these elements are taken into consideration in determining a classification. The highest level of risk here is “Moderate”, on the basis that calling it “high” or “severe” would exaggerate the actual level or risk in landing or overflying the territories concerned.
Three levels of airspace risk are used in our assessment.
LEVEL 1. Moderate risk - No Fly
LEVEL 2. Assessed risk
LEVEL 3. Caution
This document is intended to provide operator guidance in determining whether to avoid specific airspaces. Exclusion from this advice, naturally, does not mean that other airspace is risk free.
The countries that issue the most relevant updates for unsafe airspace are:
- US (FAA) – through Notams and SFARs
- UK (DFT) – AIP
- Germany (BMVI) – Notam
- France (DGAC) - AIC
Operators should note that in general, the Civil Aviation Authorities of the countries whose airspace is determined to be unsafe are unlikely to issue reliable guidance. Read more at safeairspace.net.
LEVEL 1: Moderate Risk - No Fly
For these countries, the basis for inclusion is the highly unstable current events on the ground, and in all cases the ground factions having access to MANPADS or SAMS. We strongly recommend avoiding this airspace entirely. All countries have multiple warnings, and your country of registry is likely to have issued specific instructions not to penetrate these airspaces
The primary risk is intentional targeting by terrorist organisations who possess portable anti-aircraft weaponry. Civil aircraft may also be misidentified by the air defence systems of both local and foreign military who are active in the country. There is a clear risk to civil aircraft operating throughout the FIR at all levels however the eastern airways UL602 (between TAMSI and ALPET), UM860 and UM688 are considered acceptable by France and the UK above FL320.
Major events: Jan 2020: US drone strike near ORBI/Baghdad killed a high ranking Iranian general. Considered a serious escalation. Anything that looks like a US asset or ally is now considered a target. Jan 2020: Ukrainian Airlines 737 misidentified and shot down by Iranian armed forced in Tehran hours after retaliatory missile attacks against US bases in Iraq. June 2020 onwards: Multiple rocket attacks on ORBI and the US embassy. In general anti-US sentiment is worsening, the US Government is threatening to shut down the embassy if sporadic attacks don't stop.
Read: Iraq Airspace Update, March 2020 (OPSGROUP article)
The primary risk is intentional targeting by terrorist groups with access to sophisticated anti-aircraft weaponry. Civil aircraft may also be at danger from on-going high intensity military operations including the use of explosive drones and missiles. Saudi-led airstrikes can occur at any time with little regard to civil traffic, including in the capital Sana’a.
Major events: 2017: OYSN/Sanaa badly damaged by coalition airstrikes. April 2018: Saudi airstrikes on Sana’a in retaliation for Houthi drone attacks across the border. July 2018: Houthi target Abu Dhabi Airport with explosive drones. Throughout 2020: Ongoing Houthi drone and rocket attacks targeting OEAH/Abha and OEGN/Jizan airports along the Yemeni-Saudi Border. September 2020: Multiple Saudi airstrikes on rebels in Sana’a, several near the airport. October 2020: Riyadh briefly on high alert for Houthi cruise missile and drone attack.
Read: Saudi-Yemen Airspace Update, Oct 2020 (OPSGROUP article)
The primary risk is a misident by Iranian air defense systems. Iran has shown willingness to use long-range, advanced anti-aircraft-capable weapons during heightened tensions and in close proximity to heavily flown international air routes. There is also a potential for Iranian surface-to-surface missile fire from western Iran, targeting terrorist positions in Iraq. The secondary risks come from ballistic missile test launches with no warning by Notam, and GPS jamming (including in overwater airspace over the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman).
Jan 2020: Iranian Armed Forces shot-down Ukraine Int Airlines flight 752 over Tehran, having mistaken the aircraft radar return for an inbound missile. Just hours prior to the shoot-down, the US FAA issued “Emergency Order” Notams banning all US operators from overflying the airspace of Iraq and Iran. This was in response to an Iranian missile strike on US military bases in Iraq, which had occurred earlier that night.
June 2019: Iran shot down a US military unmanned aircraft operating in airspace over the Gulf of Oman with a SAM system.
Since 2017: Iran has conducted multiple ballistic missile test launches without issuing any Notams to warn civil operators, the latest taking place in late December 2019.
Read: Iran Airspace Update, March 2020 (OPSGROUP article)
The primary risk is a misident by Libyan air defense systems, or by militia who have threatened to shoot down aircraft operating in western Libya, including HLLM/Tripoli Mitiga airport. Risk remains high across Libya at all flight levels, and avoidance of all airspace and airports is strongly recommended. The secondary risk is that reliable ATC services cannot be guaranteed. The past few years have seen regular ATS and radar outages across the HLLL FIR airspace, and severe limitations in VHF capability, with operators having to communicate with Malta ATC for guidance.
Major events: Jan 2020: Multiple airstrikes targeting HLLM/Tripoli Mitiga airport. Videos on social media showing planes landing at the airport as shells are falling in the background. Nov 2019: Militia advancing on the capital, Tripoli, declared a no-fly-zone around the city, threatening to shoot-down civil aircraft attempting to fly to HLLM/Tripoli Mitiga airport. Oct 2019: The US issued an emergency order prohibiting US operators from overflying the HLLL/Tripoli FIR except for altitudes at or above FL300 “outside of Libyan territorial airspace” - which is basically the international airspace over the southern Mediterranean Sea that is managed by Libya.
Read: Libya Airspace Update, Oct 2019 (OPSGROUP article)
The primary risk is a misident by Syrian air defense systems. Civil aircraft may be targeted in error, or caught in crossfire during ongoing air attacks involving Israel, Russia, Iran. Missiles may erroneously lock on to civil aircraft. Israeli airstrikes on Syria are regular, and do not show any regard for civil traffic. There is a clear risk to civil aircraft operating on airways UL620, UW74, UR18, and UP62. In simple terms, if you find yourself planned overwater east of Cyprus, reconsider your route.
Major events: Sep 2018: Russian IL-20 shot down in error on FIR boundary with Cyprus (Nicosia FIR) - airline flights on UL620 within 50nm of this position. Feb 2020: An A320 enroute OSDI/Damascus caught in crossfire during attack by 4 Israeli F-16’s, forced to divert to Russian controlled air base. Read: OpsGroup Note -Syria, Sep 2018 (PDF)
LEVEL 2: Assessed Risk
Assessed Risk applies to countries that are the subject of airspace warnings by EASA, FAA, UK DFT, German BMVI, French DGAC, but only for specific portions or below certain altitudes
The primary risk is in the UKDV/Dnipropetrovsk FIR in the east of the country, with the misidentification of civil aircraft should hostilities escalate. There has been a large military build-up in this area recently, along with an increase in ceasefire violations. Essentially, similar conditions to those prior to the shoot-down of MH17 in 2014.
The secondary risk affects the UKFV/Simferopol FIR which is disputed airspace. (Ukraine:UKFV, Russia:URFV). In March 2014, Russia annexed Crimea. The ATC Center is in Simferopol, Crimea, and is now run by Russia. Russia claims the airspace. Ukraine refuses to recognise the change, and asks crews to talk to Ukrainian controllers in Dnipro/Odesa ACC instead of Simferopol ACC. So the risk here stems from aircraft potentially receiving confusing and conflicting air traffic control instructions from both Ukrainian and Russian ATC when operating over the region.
Apr 2021: The US FAA published a Note warning of escalating tensions along the Ukraine/Russia border. Canada also publishes an airspace warning, advising operators to avoid the UKFV and UKDV FIRs.
Oct 2020: US operators now allowed to overfly Crimea again.
July 2014: Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 flying over Ukraine at FL330 just west of the Russian border was mistakenly shot down after being misidentified as a hostile target by Russian-backed troops on the ground.
The primary risk is from indirect fire targeting airports and from surface-to-air fire targeting aircraft operating at low altitudes. Airports in Afghanistan have been targeted frequently by direct assault and indirect fire.
Nov 2020: OAKB: Major rocket attack in Kabul. Nearly two dozen rockets were fired from vehicles in several neighborhoods around the city causing multiple casualties. The road between OAKB/Kabul Airport and the Intercontinental Hotel was also targeted with an explosive device.
Mar 2020: OAIX/Bagram was targeted by indirect fire on multiple occasions.
Sep 2017: Indirect attack on OAKB/Kabul Airport, when multiple munitions impacted within the airport perimeter.
The primary risk is from indirect mortar and rocket fire, including MANPADS, which could target aircraft at low altitudes and at airports.
Jan 2020: Two US military/govt aircraft (C-146A, DHC-8), and two helicopters, were destroyed in a militant attack on HKLU/Manda Airport, a US/Kenya joint military base in Lamu county, east coast. Security concerns in this part of Kenya have been ongoing for several years.
Jan 2019: Al-Shabaab militants launched an attack on a hotel complex in central Nairobi on 15 Jan 2019, killing at least 14 people. There were a number of attacks by Al-Shabab in Kenya in preceding years, but none in Nairobi since the attack on the Westgate shopping mall in 2013.
The primary risk is from indirect mortar and rocket fire, including MANPADS, which could target aircraft at low altitudes and at airports. The FAA say that militants in Mali primarily target UN and Malian forces which are often based near to Malian airports, and these attacks present an indirect threat to civil aviation.
Major events: Aug 2020 All airports across the country were closed from Aug 19-20 following a military coup which overthrew the government. Bamako ACC remained operational throughout, with overflights unaffected. April 2018: Militants attacked UN peacekeepers at two bases near GATB/Timbuktu Airport using both indirect fire weapons and vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices. Jan 2017 and Nov 2016: Militants conducted vehicle-borne improvised explosive attacks against GAGO/Gao Airport, and rocket attacks against GATB/Timbuktu Airport.
Senegal and Niger control the airspace over Mali, and they have long-standing Notams (published under the GOOO/Dakar and DRRR/Niamey FIRs) warning that you can only fly between FL320-400 through the entire airspace in Mali north of the GABS/Bamako TMA due to military ops across the region.
The primary risk now comes from poor levels of ATC provision for overflights below FL245 or for aircraft operating to HSSJ/Juba airport. In Jan 2021, ICAO published a letter warning of service disruptions and lack of qualified ATC personnel, the lack of contingencies in place, communication issues, the number of withdrawn navigation aids and above all, the lack of information being supplied to operators regarding these issues.
April 2019: Military coup in Sudan led to the temporary closure of South Sudan’s airspace.
June 2016: The South Sudanese army declared intention to shoot down aircraft without permits and/or not following proper procedures.
The are several long-standing airspace warnings in place: Canada, France and Germany warn of a risk to landing anywhere in the country, but particularly along the border with Yemen in the southwest part of the OEJD/Jeddah FIR. There is definitely a risk to operations in Saudi airspace, even outside the ESCAT area.
The primary risk is from Houthi drone and missile attacks on airports across the country, but particularly in the south.
Major events: Throughout 2020: Ongoing Houthi drone and rocket attacks targeting OEAH/Abha and OEGN/Jizan airports along the Yemeni-Saudi Border. September 2020: Multiple Saudi airstrikes on rebels in Sana’a, several near the airport. October 2020: Riyadh briefly on high alert for Houthi cruise missile and drone attack.
Read: Saudi-Yemen Airspace Update, Oct 2020 (OPSGROUP article)
Sep 2018: Risk due to hidden ATC strike. Ethiopian ATC controllers went on strike, and the ECAA and Ethiopian Airlines recruited both retired and foreign controllers to pick up the slack. Ethiopia denied several times that there was in fact a strike happening at all. The strike ended September 7th. Many were not qualified to operate in Ethiopian airspace, due to inexperience.
An Embraer EMB-120 was shot down while on approach to Bardale airstrip on May 4, 2020, killing all six people on board - an accidental shoot-down by Ethiopian forces stationed in the region.
-July 2019: British Airways suspends Cairo operations for one week due to security concerns
-In February 2017 an an SA-7 anti-aircraft missile tube was found less than a mile from HECA/Cairo airport.
-In October 2015 a Russian A321 was brought down over the Sinai peninsula by a bomb loaded at HESH/Sharm El Sheikh. The group claimed the IED was placed aboard the aircraft prior to departing HESH, raising concerns of potential insider threats at the airport.
There remains a threat from terrorism in Egypt, particularly in the Sinai Peninsular - most countries advise against operating to airports in this region, as well as overflights below FL260.
However, in May 2019 North Korea resumed launching missiles into the Sea of Japan, without providing any warning by Notam.
The US continues to prohibit flights across all North Korean airspace, including the oceanic part of the ZKKP/Pyongyang FIR over the Sea of Japan. Several other countries have airspace warnings in place which advise caution due to the risk posed by unannounced rocket launches.
LEVEL 3 : Caution
Caution applies to countries that do not have multiple current airspace warnings, but we consider worthy of a security review before operating into or over
On April 8, Albanian airspace (the LAAA/Tirana FIR) along with LATI/Tirana Airport was forced to close, after a number of local air traffic controllers declared themselves temporarily unfit to work.
Local air traffic controllers are working under significant duress and high stress, having been threatened with dismissal (or worse - being arrested and jailed) if they do not declare themselves fit for duty. In addition, a number of foreign controllers have been installed despite the fact that they are not trained or rated on any of the local positions.
Several international associations have published warnings, including IFALPA and IFATCA.
The primary risk is from anti-aircraft fire from the conflict. The FAA has published a note warning that the Polisario likely have access to anti-aircraft weaponry which may pose an inadvertent risk to civil aircraft up to FL120. In addition, the GCCC/Canarias FIR has issued a Notam warning that overflights should be completely avoided over the part of Western Sahara that falls within the GCCC/Canarias FIR (i.e. airways UY601 and UN728). For the part of Western Sahara that sits under the GOOO/Dakar FIR (i.e. airway UT975), they say overflights should not be below FL245.
The secondary risk is from lack of continuous ATC coverage. Western Sahara does not control its own airspace - it falls within both the GCCC/Canarias and the GOOO/Dakar FIRs, which may complicate airspace management should the conflict escalate. The FAA advise aircraft operating in the region to stay in touch with ATC and be prepared for possible airspace restrictions and reroutes.