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Russian air exercises in Atlantic threat to civilian flights: pilots warn

Dec. 21, 2007, Brussels, Belgium _ An international pilots' group is complaining about air operations by a Russian naval task force in the Atlantic.


December 21, 2007
By Slobodan Lekic

Dec. 21, 2007, Brussels, Belgium _ An international pilots' group is complaining
about air operations by a Russian naval task force in the Atlantic.

The International Federation of Air Line Pilots' Associations
says the Russian military manoeuvres are a potential threat to
civilian flights.

A Russian squadron consisting of the aircraft carrier Admiral
Kuznetsov and two Udaloy-class destroyers is heading from the North
Atlantic to the Mediterranean.

The pilots say the Russians have warned that military operations
below 3,000 metres could occur anywhere along the squadron's route
"without prior notification.''

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They also warn of possible loss of civilian communications due to
interference from military transmissions.

The voyage is the most ambitious Russian naval deployment since
the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union. During its three-month tour,
it is due to be joined in the Mediterranean by units of Russia's
Black Sea fleet.

The cruise comes amid heightened tensions over Moscow's fierce
opposition to U.S. plans to build a missile defence system in
eastern Europe and other arms and political disputes.

When it sailed across the North Sea last week, the Kuznetsov
conducted air operations close to Norway's Gullfaks offshore oil
field "without communication with any air traffic or other
agency,'' said a statement issued by the pilots association.

The Norwegian Foreign Ministry said Oslo  notified Moscow about
the potential threat to civilian helicopters serving the offshore
oil platforms.

The Russians replied they would curtail the flights – all of
which were over international waters – and the task force moved away
from the oilfields, ministry spokesman Bjorn Svenungsen said.

In recent months, Russia's land-based Tu-95 and Tu-160 strategic
bombers also have resumed regular long-range patrols over
international waters in the Atlantic, Arctic and Pacific oceans _ a
move President Vladimir Putin described as necessary to protect the
country's security.

The 60,000-ton Kuznetsov can carry 12 Su-33 fighters and five
Su-25 attack jets, along with a large number of anti-submarine
helicopters. The squadron reportedly is now in the Bay of Biscay.

A spokesman for the Russian navy said he had no immediate comment
about the pilots' group's warning.

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS