Somalia and ICAO at loggerheads over control of airspace

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The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has given the Federal Government of Somalia an unforgiving ultimatum regarding control of its airspace.

Hiiraan Online has learned that the ICAO’s Air Navigation Bureau set a contingency plan that includes measures to restrict the flow of air traffic into Somalia, should Somalia reclaim control of its sovereign airspace.

The Air Navigation Bureau says that if the control of airspace is transferred to the Somali Civil Aviation Authority, the vertical separation for planes in Somalia will be increased from the current 1000ft to 2000ft. Some routes will be closed and other routes will be restricted. This contingency plan  will significantly reduced the number of planes that can use Somali airspace.

ICAO cites safety concerns, but as some aviation experts point out, these restrictive measures included in their contingency plan are not currently in place, leading many to believe that money, not safety, is the driving factor behind this decision.

If Somalia does not accept these terms, ICAO’s plan calls for the division of parts of Somali airspace between India and the Seychelles.

Somalia’s air troubles began in 1993 when the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and ICAO established the Technical Assistance Project (TAP) that was to provide basic air services to Somalia. By 1995, an operational station was set up in a tiny office in a leafy suburb of Nairobi. ICAO established the Civil Aviation Caretaker Authority for Somalia (CACAS) which was permanently based in Nairobi in 1996. CACAS’s mandate included collecting over-flight revenues on behalf of Somalia and to reinvest those proceeds into air traffic control and airport maintenance.

Since then, several Somali officials have tried in vain to reclaim Somali airspace, including then Prime Minister Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo, who told the New York Times in 2011 that the airspace issue was one of sovereignty.

“Definitely, we will reclaim that authority,” said Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo, Somalia’s former prime minister and current Somali President. “It’s very simple. The airspace belongs to the Somali people. We are a sovereign country. This isn’t just about the money.”

Earlier this year, the president of International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), Dr. Olumuyiwa Benard Aliu denied reports that the control of Somali airspace will be transferred to neighbouring countries as widely reported in local media.

“I can confirm that the Somali airspace cannot be transferred,” Dr. Aliu told HOL, “I have sent a letter explaining the situation surrounding the Somali airspace to the Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo and he has been made aware that control (of the airspace) cannot be transferred.”

Somalia is strategically located at the crossroads of Africa and the Middle East, and as a result, over between 150-200 flights – from Ethiopia, Djibouti, Kenya, and the UAE among others – fly over its airspace per day. As a Class G airspace, each flight has to pay approximately $275 in air navigation charges which ICAO says generates on average $1.1 million per month. These fees have been collected by ICAO on behalf of Somalia since 1993 but officials say very little trickles to the Somali government.

Two weeks ago, top ICAO officials met with a Somali delegation led by the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation on the sidelines of the Regional AVSEC Ministerial Conference in the Egyptian resort town of Sharm-El-Sheikh to discuss the transfer of Somali airspace. A Somali official who spoke with us on the condition of anonymity said that this meeting is what led ICAO to draft this contingency plan.

The second meeting between ICAO and Somali officials is scheduled to take place on September 6th at the ICAO headquarters in Montreal, Canada. Hiiraan Online has learned that Mohamed Doli of Doli Law Firm in Toronto has been retained by the Somali government to advise them on this case.

Somali officials have confirmed to Hiiraan Online that legal consultations are ongoing in Mogadishu with international law firms to explore different options as this dispute enters a new phase.

Source: HO

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