NATO Secretary General: Russian military flights jeopardizing civilian aircraft ({{commentsTotal}})

NATO fighter jets patrolling and protecting Baltic airspace had to respond 12 times on Tuesday in reaction to Russian military aircraft flying near the Latvian border. Source: (AFP/Scanpix)

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has accused Russian military planes of flying over the Baltic Sea in essentially a stealth mode, and threatening civilian air traffic in the region.

Stoltenberg told a press conference on Monday that the issue is not just the heavy traffic of Russian military airplanes over the Baltic Sea. Flights between the St. Petersburg region and the enclave of Kaliningrad have increased dramatically this year. But planes are traveling through the area without talking to ground control units, and without active flight transponders that identify the type and location of the aircraft, said the Secretary General.

“It is not only a question of increased ... flights but it's the way they're conducting the flights. They are not filing their flight plans and they are not communicating with civilian air traffic control and they are not turning on their transponders," said Stoltenberg, according to Reuters.

"That poses a risk to civilian air traffic. The important thing is that NATO stays vigilant and that we intercept the Russian flights.”

A potentially catastrophic situation occurred Friday off southern Sweden, when an SAS civilian airliner nearly collided with a Russian surveillance plane. The SAS flight, traveling from Copenhagen to Poznan, Poland, changed course.

Finland has also said its local air traffic controllers are having problems with "dark" Russian military aircraft, and they have had to steer civilian flights away to avoid collisions.

NATO said earlier this month that its aircraft had scrambled more than 400 times this year to intercept Russian aircraft, up 50 percent from the 2013 total.

Estonia says Russian aircraft have violated its airspace six times this year, a sharp increase.

The most serious incident happened on Oct. 21, when a Russian IL-20 surveillance plane crossed into Estonia's airspace for about a minute near the island of Saaremaa.

Editor: S. Randa, S. Abel

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