News Reel: Military Interference Causes Flight Cancellations in Estonia, DR Congo

Finnair Wingtip

Oneworld member Finnair and SkyTeam carrier Kenya Airways have announced the suspension of two routes on Monday. Both of them gave very unusual reasons for those actions, traversing the boundaries of commercial aviation and going into international politics.

Finnair Suspends Flights to Tartu Until the End of May

Tartu is the second-biggest city in Estonia, located fairly in the middle of the country, with a population of slightly fewer than 100,000. The only commercial aviation Tartu airport (TAY) sees is a Finnair ATR-72 that visits twice a day from Helsinki. Until the end of May, this is going to change, as Finnair temporarily suspended flights to the airport until May 31, 2024. The reason for this is interference with their plane’s navigational systems, supposedly by the Russian military.

While the airline’s official press release does not mention the name of Finland’s Eastern neighbor once, it paints a pretty clear picture of whom they blame for the interference:

GPS interference has increased since 2022, and Finnair pilots have reported interference especially near Kaliningrad, the Black Sea, the Caspian Sea and the Eastern Mediterranean.

Finnair Press Release

The reason for this suspension is not Finnair awaiting a solution of the issue, but making progress on a workaround. The aim is to safely operate these flights despite a jammed GPS signal. Flights to Tallinn, which is not as close to the Russian border, are not affected.

The Global Positioning System (GPS) is owned by the American government and provides the basis for most worldwide navigational data (for both commercial and private use). While using it makes flying easier, it is possible and safe to navigate without it.

Kenya Airways Cancels All Flights to Kinshasa Over Customs Dispute

Kenya Airways currently operates the only nonstop connection between Nairobi, capital of Kenya, and the Democratic Republic of Congo’s capital of Kinshasa. The airline alternates between Boeing 737-800 and Airbus A330-300 aircraft on this rotation. Yet this is going to stop as early as May 1: According to yesterday’s press release, the route has been suspended until further notice. The reason for this is a rather outlandish one and puts direct blame on the Congolese authorities:

The continued detention of our employees has made it difficult for us to supervise our operations in Kinshasa, […]

Kenya Airways Press Release

The first time this issue flared up was on April 12, 2024, over a missing customs declaration for “valuable cargo” transported on a Kenya Airways plane, leading to the arrest of two crew members. The airline claimed that it never accepted the crate in question for transport in the first place, because of the same issues. Announcing the suspension is a thinly-veiled protest by the airline against the ongoing imprisonment of their staff, as operations most likely won’t break down because two people are missing.

Based on the little information published and our rudimentary knowledge of Central African diplomacy, it is hard to figure out who to blame for this situation.

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