Somaliland’s Challenge to Somalia’s ATC Legitimacy

A Boeing 737-8 MAX operated by Ethiopian Airlines, with registration ET-AWH, was en route from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to Bangalore, India, flying at FL370 over Somaliland and communicating with Somalia’s ATC.

Meanwhile, an Emirates Airlines Boeing 777-300, registered as A6-EGN and operating flight EK-722 from Nairobi, Kenya, to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, was also flying at FL370 over Somaliland, with both aircraft converging on similar flight paths.

Somaliland’s Civil Aviation And Airport Authority reported a potentially dangerous situation, suggesting a near-miss incident, but credited the quick response of Somaliland’s ATC Controllers for averting a crisis, as outlined in their report.

However, data transmitted by the aircraft via ADS-B paint a different picture:

Both aircraft were flying at FL370 on converging paths over Somaliland, both under the guidance of Somalia’s Air Traffic Control. When ET-690 began its climb to FL390, the lateral distance between the two aircraft was over 30nm. Even as ET-690 reached FL380, they remained approximately 20nm apart. ET-690 initiated its climb about 30nm before the crossing point, while EK-722 was roughly 40nm ahead of that point. As ET-690 crossed the flight path of EK-722, already at FL390, EK-722 maintained a distance of approximately 10nm ahead of the crossing point. At no stage did the aircraft breach separation standards.

Emirates Airlines strongly denied the occurrence described by Somaliland’s CAA, asserting that no such incident occurred.

Both flights continued to their destinations and landed safely.

Somaliland and Somalia remain locked in a dispute over control of the airspace. In 2019, ICAO transferred management of Somalia’s entire airspace to the government in Mogadishu, stating:

“The management of the airspace of Somalia had been transferred from ICAO-FISS Project-SOM14802 to the Somali Civil Aviation Authority (SCAA) of the Federal Government of Somalia with effect from 1st AUG 2019. Thereafter, Somali Civil Aviation Authority (SCAA) has been responsible for the provision of Air Navigation Services in the entire airspace of Somalia including Aeronautical Information Service/Management.”

Somaliland, officially the Republic of Somaliland, lacks international recognition and is considered part of Somalia.

Recent reports indicate instances of “invalid transmissions” on ATC frequencies over Northern Somalia (Somaliland), where unauthorized voices have attempted to issue instructions to aircraft. For example, see the incident involving El Al B789 over Somalia on Feb 17th, 2024, where invalid communication occurred on the ATC frequency.

Essentially, the statement from Somaliland’s CAA confirms that Mogadishu (Somalia) ATC was in control of the aircraft and alleges that Somaliland controllers improperly transmitted on that frequency, issuing instructions to an aircraft.

This ongoing conflict between Somaliland and Somalia poses risks to international air traffic over Somalia, particularly over Somaliland and the Gulf of Aden.

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