MOSCOW, April 30 (RIA Novosti) – Russia’s aviation authority issued a decree on Tuesday banning all Russian airlines from flying over Syrian territory following an incident on Monday in which a passenger plane reportedly had to make a detour to avoid military action in the war-torn country.
Rosaviatsia, the Federal Air Transportation Agency, said earlier that a charter plane belonging to Russia’s NordWind Airlines flying from Egypt's resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh to Russia's central-western city of Kazan decided to increase its altitude for safety reasons after one of the pilots spotted combat activity below the plane. The Airbus 320 plane carrying 159 passengers landed in Kazan as scheduled, but the incident prompted the aviation authority to issue new restrictions.
“In order to ensure the safety of passengers and crew members on Russian commercial flights, Rosaviatsia has sent out an order to avoid Syrian air space,” the agency said in a statement on Tuesday.
A spokesperson for Rosaviatsia confirmed to the Prime news agency that it is a mandatory measure for all Russian airlines, and its implementation will be monitored by the aviation authority’s officials.
Irina Tyurina, a spokeswoman for Russia’s union of travel agencies, told RIA Novosti that the pilots had reported seeing “flashes over Syrian territory where they were flying.” She added that the source of the flashes was not yet clear.
The aviation agency advised airlines not to fly over Syria back in late February, and on Monday urged all Russian airlines to suspend flights over countries that are currently caught up in any military conflict. The Foreign Ministry has issued a statement saying it will look into Monday’s incident.
Russia’s major airlines, including Aeroflot, Transaero and S7, said Tuesday that they had stopped flying via Syrian air space even before Tuesday’s order.
Rosaviatsia made reference in its statement to a 2001 accident in which a Russian Tu-154 passenger jet crashed into the Black Sea, killing all 78 people on board, after being hit by a Ukrainian missile fired during exercises.
Syria has seen widespread military fighting amid a civil war that began with popular uprisings more than two years ago. At least 13 people were reportedly killed in an explosion in the center of the capital of Damascus earlier on Tuesday.