A Turkish drone base in the breakaway north of ethnically divided Cyprus could increase safety risks for thousands of commercial flights that cross the airspace around the eastern Mediterranean island, a flight safety group warned Tuesday.
FSF-Med, an NGO affiliated with the Washington, D.C.-based International Flight Safety Foundation, said the planned upgrading of the Turkish air base in Gecitkale — called Lefkoniko in Greek — may compound a communications and coordination problem between aviation authorities in Turkey and Cyprus that has already compromised flight safety for years.
An intelligence report obtained by The Associated Press suggests that the Gecitkale base will be expanded to host both armed and unarmed Bayraktar TV2 drones, surveillance aircraft, training planes and advanced fighter jets.
Cyprus was split into a breakaway Turkish Cypriot north and an internationally recognized Greek Cypriot south in 1974 when Turkey invaded following a coup by supporters of union with Greece.
Turkish Cypriots declared an independent state nearly a decade later, but only Turkey recognizes it. Although Turkish Cypriots say they control air traffic in airspace in the northern half of Cyprus, aviation authorities including the International Civil Aviation Organization don’t recognize it.
Despite this, Turkish and Turkish Cypriot air traffic control authorities don’t communicate with the island’s internationally recognized Nicosia ATC in the south and often issue conflicting instructions to passing civilian aircraft, resulting in numerous near misses between passenger planes in the past that the AP uncovered in 2011.