Russia tightens hold on Crimea at Simferopol area control centre

crimeaThe tense stand-off in the war of the airways is continuing between Ukraine and the Russia Federation over who controls flights in and out of Crimea.

Earlier this week Russia issued Federation passports to Simferopol-based controllers working within its newly formed ‘Crimea Air Navigation’ branch, the latest gesture in its effort to wrest the Simferopol flight information region (FIR) away from Ukrainian State Air Traffic Service Enterprise (UkSATSE) control and absorb it into its own air traffic control operations.

Earlier this month, UN aviation agency ICAO confirmed Ukraine’s exclusive right to provide air navigation services in international airspace over the Black Sea within the Simferopol FIR following the nationalisation of Crimean ATC which followed the controversial referendum on joining the Russian Federation. The issuing of identity documents therefore represents a strategic riposte to recent ICAO declarations.

Russia reports that air traffic services within the FIR are being provided by the Simferopol area control centre as ‘normal’ and that both Russian and international airlines are operating freely in Crimean airspace. Russian president Vladimir Putin has also instructed the country’s government to set a zero value-added tax rate for air traffic to and from Crimea starting June 1 although airline industry sources point out that technically Russian carriers can already reclaim the tax post-flight.

Russian airlines flying to Crimea include national flag carrier Aeroflot which is operating four daily flights out of its Moscow hub at Sheremetyevo International Airport and Transaero, VIM-avia, S7 Airlines, UTair, Ural Airlines operating flights also from Moscow to Simferopol.

Sheremetyevo airport officials said Simferopol-bound Aeroflot flights would also switch from the international to domestic departures area of the airline’s Moscow base. While the other Moscow airports have yet to announce similar moves, there are rumours that flights from regional centres to Simferopol will soon benefit from a fresh raft of subsidies to strengthen Russia’s grip over Crimea airspace.

The latest developments come after a April 3 safety bulletin from the European Aviation Safety Agency – accompanied by recommendations from both ICAO and Eurocontrol which oversees the regional aviation network – that airspace controlled by the Simferopol FIR should be avoided as more than one air traffic control agency controlling flights within the same airspace could have serious safety implications.

UkSATSE insists that ICAO-led negotiations earlier in April between representatives of Ukraine and the Russian Federation established that Russia had no legal grounds to seize airspace and interfere with its air traffic services.

In response to the effective ‘annexation’ of the Simferopol ACC, Ukraine has now signed new agreements with Black Sea states to reflect the loss of its Crimea facilities, delegating air navigation service provision in the Simferopol FIR to Dnipropetrovsk and Odessa centres. UkSATSE warned that Russia’s actions would have irreversible consequences for both Russian air traffic control and Russian airlines.

A spokesman for Eurocontrol confirmed to Air Traffic Management: “Last year there were approximately 600 flights a day using the Simferopol FIR and the vast majority are now diverting round it.”

Read: ICAO backs Ukraine’s rights over Black Sea

Posted in CAAs/ANSPs, News, Operations

2 Responses to Russia tightens hold on Crimea at Simferopol area control centre

  1. Gilbert Georges says:

    I carry a US passport. Do I need a Russian visa to fly to Simferopol? A reply to this question will be appreciated.