Airspace dispute escalates between Somalia and Somaliland

A recent incident involving Qatar Airways has reignited tensions between Mogadishu and Hargeisa, as conflicting directives from air traffic controllers in both regions have prompted formal safety complaints.

On Wednesday, February 14th, the airline reported receiving contradictory instructions, highlighting the growing complexities of airspace management in the region.

The Doha-Mogadishu via Djibouti flight, however, landed safely in Mogadishu.

As a result, air traffic controllers in Mogadishu issued NOTAM (Notice to Airmen) advisories to international carriers operating within Somalia and Somaliland indicating that flights passing through this airspace should not expect altitude adjustments unless directed otherwise by Mogadishu authorities.

This incident unfolds against a backdrop of escalating disputes over sovereignty in airspace management between Somalia and Somaliland.

Air traffic controllers in Mogadishu issued NOTAM (Notice to Airmen).

Somaliland authorities recently announced their intention to assume control over their airspace, previously shared with Mogadishu.

The move signals a significant assertion of autonomy by Somaliland, exacerbating existing tensions.

Complaint to ICAO

In response to Somaliland’s actions, Somalia’s air traffic control management in Mogadishu swiftly filed a complaint with the International Civil Aviation Authority (ICAO) under the United Nations, decrying Somaliland’s actions as “unauthorized frequency jamming.” Somalia has urged ICAO to intervene promptly to address the dispute.

Somalia’s air traffic control management in Mogadishu swiftly filed a complaint with the International Civil Aviation Authority (ICAO).

The rift between Mogadishu and Hargeisa has been steadily escalating since January 1, 2024, following Somaliland’s signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Ethiopia.

The MOU, which proposes granting Ethiopia a 20-kilometer maritime space, has been met with vehement opposition from the Mogadishu government, labeling it as “illegal.”

Despite the MOU not yet being implemented, the tensions between the two sides have continued to mount.

Recent incidents have further exacerbated the strained relations between Mogadishu and Hargeisa.

Last week, Somaliland accused Mogadishu air controllers of obstructing an emergency air ambulance flight bound for Hargeisa, a claim that was vehemently denied by Mogadishu.

This allegation follows at least two other incidents where Somalia admitted to denying flight permissions for Ethiopian Airlines flights destined for Somaliland. Mogadishu contends that these flights were intended to transport Ethiopian officials seeking to finalize the contentious MOU.

The control over airspace has been a point of contention since 2018 when Somalia assumed control from the ICAO control center based in Nairobi, Kenya.

Subsequently, equipped control centers were established in both Mogadishu and Hargeisa, each equipped with tower systems and radio equipment for center/tower voice data interchange, provided in March 2023.

As tensions escalate, the airspace dispute highlights not only the intricacies of regional politics and the difficulties of managing shared resources, but also poses a substantial impediment to endeavors aimed at cultivating stability and collaboration between Mogadishu and Hargeisa.

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