Finland investigating alleged aerial incursion by Estonian jet

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A Czech-built Aero L-39 Albatros trainer jet in Õhuvägi service.
A Czech-built Aero L-39 Albatros trainer jet in Õhuvägi service. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

Finnish authorities have opened a preliminary investigation after a suspected airspace incursion involving an Estonian air force (Õhuvägi) trainer jet over the island of Utö Monday. Estonia's defense forces say the incident was the result of human error during a joint exercise with allied personnel, and would be the subject of investigation.

Niina Hyrsky, head of communications at Finland's Ministry of Defense, said the alleged incident involved an Aero L-39 Albatros trainer jet.

The alleged incursion lasted about two minutes and went around 5km deep into Finnish airspace, over Utö, a small island in the Archipelago Sea between Finland and Sweden.

The Finnish foreign ministry tweeted Monday night that it has contacted the Estonian embassy in Helsinki for an explanation of the incident.

Finland's border guard has launched a preliminary investigation into Monday's events, ERR reports.

Estonian Defense Forces (EDF): Human error during allied exercise at fault

The EDF issued a statement later on Tuesday, explaining that the incident had involved human error, and is being investigated.

The EDF press release said that: "Due to human error, two Estonian Air Force L-39 jet trainers turned towards Finnish airspace south of Utö Island yesterday at 14.02 local time. The incident occurred over international waters, when planes were taking part in a training exercise with an allied warship. The violation of the airspace lasted for less than a minute."

"The Estonian Air Force has launched a safety investigation to determine the causes of the incident. The Estonian Ambassador to Finland reported the unfortunate incident to the Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and confirmed that Estonia would take measures to prevent similar incidents in the future."

"The Estonian Air Force routinely organizes training flights and joint exercises with Estonian and allied units to support Estonian Defense Forces exercises, to train joint terminal attack controllers, intercept controllers and with allied airmen who are securing Estonian airspace."

Estonia sees several aerial incursions in a typical year, mostly over the uninhabited island of Vaindloo, in the Gulf of Finland, and generally involving military aircraft flying to or from the Russian Federation.

As a NATO member, Estonia hosts the Baltic air policing mission at Ämari air base, currently held by the Italian air force and complemented by NATO jets based at Šiauliai, Lithuania, as part of the same mission.

Finland is not a NATO member.

The Õhuvägi is organizationally a part of the EDF and not a standalone service. It operates transport planes and radar in addition to the Albatros trainers; the NATO mission plugs the gaps in terms of fast jet capabilities.

Please note an earlier version of this article stated that the Estonian Ministry of Defense (Kaitseministeerium) had issued a statement on the incident. In fact it was the EDF (Kaitsevägi) which issued the press release. ERR News apologizes for any confusion arising.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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