While it's widely understood that flying into or over conflict zones poses significant safety and security risks, it seems that much of the aviation industry has overlooked the fact that flying near conflict zones is still a frequent occurrence in everyday operations.
Unfortunately, modern warfare has the potential to reach altitudes used by commercial aircraft. This makes it crucial for pilots to be fully aware of the associated risks of flying near conflict zone. To help with that, here are some key considerations to keep in mind.
Understand the conflict
If you want to understand the risks of a particular conflict zone you must understand the conflict. Not all conflict zones are the same: there are numerous minor or frozen conflicts that are not part of everyday global news stream. Chances are that these conflicts do not pose a significant risk to en-route flight safety, but these would still be regions you would want to avoid in contingency scenarios. Then there are also hot conflicts that use sophisticated anti-air weaponry. The risk level of flying into hot conflict with modern anti-air weapons is different from the risk of flying into a region of frozen conflict with handguns. Contact your airline’s security department and ask for a briefing and an update of the latest developments at or near a conflict zone.
Keep weather in mind
Weather plays a significant part in everyday flight planning and flying near conflict zones is not different in this regard. The major difference is that while flying near conflict zones you have to assess the risk of avoiding weather into the conflict area. You might want to consider asking for a different routing to circumnavigate the weather area or reserve enough fuel to be able to avoid weather to the opposite side of the conflict area. In some areas this could mean enough fuel for a 100 NM weather avoidance.
Emergency frequency 121.5
In certain parts of the world, maintaining adequate separation in conflict zones can be challenging, especially when flying in a corridor. It is crucial to maintain listening watch on the emergency frequency 121.5, especially in those areas. This frequency is most likely the one that will be used to reach you if you are in close proximity to a conflict zone. Also bear in mind regional procedures such as In-Flight Broadcasting areas or designated air-to-air frequencies and try to keep watch also on those channels.
Have a plan, and fuel
Aviation is a world of contingencies. Whether it's a loss of pressurisation, engine failure, or the need to divert due to adverse weather conditions, having a contingency plan is crucial. It's essential to familiarise yourself with potential conflict zones along your route and incorporate this knowledge into your contingency planning. For instance, it's wise to avoid choosing an alternate destination in a country engaged in a border dispute with your intended destination. In such situations, fuel becomes your most valuable asset. However, there may arise instances where an unforeseen technical failure forces you to land in a hostile territory. Regardless, always be prepared and well-informed about your available options.
Beware of GPS jamming & spoofing
In addition to GPS jamming, a relatively new threat known as GPS spoofing has emerged, especially in high-intensity conflict zones. Make yourself familiar with the potential consequences specific to your aircraft type and follow your manufacturer's instructions. This proactive approach will help you detect navigational errors in a timely manner and mitigate any adverse effects they may have.
...so in short:
• Be aware of conflict zones and their specific dangers along your route
• Check your enroute weather
• Check your airlines security briefing
• Consider additional contingency/discretionary fuel
• Monitor 121.5
• Monitor your position