Cyprus is the third largest island of the Mediterranean, located between Turkey (to the North),Egypt (to the South) and Syria and Lebanon (to the East). Until 1960 it was a British colony, part of the shrinking British empire. Following an armed uprising by the Greek inhabitants it became an independent republic and a full member of the United Nations on the 1st of October 1960. Its population of 600 000 has been 80% Greek and 18 % Turkish.
Despite the ancient rivalry between the two mother lands the people of Cyprus lived peacefully with each other, both before and after the independence. The political instability of Greece and Turkey in the late Sixties, however, inevitably affected Cyprus, corrupting the relations between the two communities.
In July 1974 a failed coup d' etat initiated by the Greek military Junta with the purpose of overthrowing the Cypriot president, gave Turkey the excuse it was looking for to invade the island. Turkey claimed that it wanted to protect the Turkish Cypriots, bur despite the fact that order was restored in a few days Turkish troops went on with the invasion and occupied 37% of the island's territory. The effects were catastrophic: 200 000 refugees, 2500 killed and 1619 missing. Today, more than a quarter of a century later the Turkish occupying forces are still on the island and the refugees still cannot return to their homes. All this despite repeated United Nations resolutions demanding that Turkey withdraws its troops. The new millenium finds Cyprus one of the last divided countries in the world.
Cyprus geographical location not only gives it a significant strategic importance but also makes it a busy destination for tourists and business people from all over the world. Sun, sea and an excellent range of business services combine to attract almost 3 million visitors a year. Since most of these travel by air, Cyprus has become a significant node of civil air traffic. Added to that is traffic transiting between continents and so the Cyprus FIR has become one of the busiest in the region.
Nicosia Area Control Center (ACC), the primary station serving the Cyprus FIR was one of the first in the region to be RADAR equipped, providing an excellent level of service since the late 1980s. The political problem however has had in effect on the ATC system as well. Air Traffic Control relies heavily on the coordination between adjacent units. For example, when an aircraft flies from Athens to Cyprus the Greek controller will call his colleague at Nicosia ACC and give him details of the flight, such as the level at which the aircraft flies and the time it estimates to reach Cyprus. This information will enable the Cypriot controller to plan ahead as to what to instruct the pilot of the aircraft in order to reach its destination safely and quickly. As a result of the Turkish invasion of 1974 this communication has been lost between Turkey and Cyprus. The effect of this is that aircraft can enter the Cyprus FIR at its Northern boundaries with Turkey, without allowing the Cypriot controller the time to decide how to handle the aircraft. In order to minimize the problem, the Cyprus Civil Aviation Authority has issued instructions to aircraft operators so that when an aircraft is flying over Turkey on a route that will bring it over Cyprus then the pilot must call Nicosia ACC 10 minutes prior to entering Cyprus FIR, giving details of its flight (level, route etc.) The entry points to the FIR that are affected by this situation are TOMBI and VESAR.
Ankara ACC, in its effort to change the status quo, instructs the aircraft on a southbound course towards Cyprus, on passing ANTALIA or MUT (significant points well before Turkish FIR boundaries) to contact Ercan. Ercan is an illegal ATC station in the occupied part of the island which is not recognized by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). ICAO only recognises the legal government of Cyprus and has issued instructions to aircraft operators to obey only Nicosia ACC when in the Cyprus FIR.
Nevertheless, Ercan's irresponsible attitude sometimes causes problems .For example, although Ercan has no direct communication with neighbouring airports such as Beirut and Damascus, it often issues descend clearances to aircraft proceeding to those destinations. Obviously Cypriot controllers must work extra hard to ensure that safety is not impaired at the area of FIR transition and so far we have managed to carry out this task admirably well.
As a result of all this, international airline operators are unwilling to fly over the airspace directly between Cyprus and Turkey,thus making it redundant to air traffic. This airspace is only used by traffic between Turkish-occupied Cyprus and Turkey. The affected airway is A28 North (from Larnaca to point DOREN).
Finally, due to the conflict, Cyprus registered aircraft do not overfly Turkish airspace, so Cyprus Airways flying, say, to Moscow cannot take the direct short route through Turkey but must go round through Greece ! Obviously this costs Cyprus Airways time and money.
It is hoped that the conflict will be resolved peacefully in the near future and flights within Cyprus FIR will become even smoother than what they are today.
More on Cyprus ATC can be viewed here on the Cyprus ATC website