Some Close Calls in the Skies Over Europe

By the end of this month, an air safety agency in the European Union will issue a report about Russian military aircraft flying over EU airspace with their transponders turned off. Reportedly, several close calls occurred during the past year because Russian military pilots have flown “blind” across flight corridors used by commercial pilots.

Last week, the Irish government revealed that two Russian TU-95 bombers in civilian airspace had nearly caused a midair collision. An air traffic control tower in Dublin averted a tragedy by delaying the take-off of one commercial jet and altering the flight path of another according to In December, 2014, a Russian spy plane flew dangerously close to a passenger jet flying over southern Sweden. Earlier, a close call occurred when an air carrier taking off from a Danish airport found itself in close proximity to a Russian warplane.

The Russian military maintains an air force base at Kaliningrad. Planes from this location can reach points across the Baltic Sea within minutes. In December, 2014, NATO’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg characterized the practice of Russian pilots “flying dark” as a safety concern.

Finland recently asked the United Nations International Civil Aviation Organization (UNICAO) to investigate. However, military craft are not covered by civilian conventions, so some civilian authorities are not optimistic the issue will find an easy resolution. Transponders provide better protection for planes seeking to avoid midair collisions than radar alone.

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