Tuesday February 13, 2024
An airplane taxis on the runway at Egal International Airport in Hargeisa, the capital of the self-declared Republic of Somaliland, on Jan. 17, 2022. The airport has become a focal point in the escalating airspace dispute between Somaliland and Somalia, amid tensions over air traffic management and control. (Credit: Somaliland Civil Aviation and Airports Authority)
Hargeisa (HOL) – The Somaliland Civil Aviation and Airports Authority (SL-CAAA) directly accused the Mogadishu government of misusing more than 60 million dollars in air traffic management funds and breaching international aviation agreements. The charge came as part of a scathing press release on Thursday lamenting the Somali government’s unilateral control and disruptions of airspace, escalating an already tense situation marked by denied flights and a controversial agreement with Ethiopia.
The SL-CAAA states, “any problems and disruptions occurring in the aviation and airspace of the country previously called Somali Republic will be the responsibility of the Mogadishu government.”
Omar Sayid Abdullah, the director of the Somaliland Aviation Authority, declared, “From today, Somaliland will not be held accountable for any disruptions in air traffic control between Somaliland and Somalia. Responsibility lies with those exploiting the situation for their political gain.”
The contention over airspace rights has seen recent developments, with Somalia’s Civil Aviation Authority (SCAA) actively denying access to flights bound for Hargeisa, the capital of Somaliland. This includes a notable incident involving an unscheduled Ethiopian Airlines flight, which was forced to return to Addis Ababa after being denied entry into Somali airspace on January 17, 2024. The flight, reportedly carrying senior Ethiopian officials to Somaliland, marked a clear manifestation of the ongoing diplomatic and operational rifts between Somalia and the self-declared independent region.
Somalia’s response to what it perceives as unauthorized airspace usage has been firm, with the SCAA imposing temporary suspensions, albeit briefly.
The financial and operational discord has tangible human ramifications. The Somali Civil Aviation Authority faced allegations of denying an Air Ambulance access to Somali airspace. Ismail Ahmed, a prominent businessman, claimed the flight, which was to transport his critically ill brother from Hargeisa to Addis Ababa for surgery, was barred. The SCAA, however, refuted these claims, stating no request had been made for an Air Ambulance landing.
Somaliland’s President Muse Bihi has publicly criticized the initial agreement with Somalia regarding airspace control, grumbling about Somalia’s failure to uphold its commitments, including those related to the distribution of international aid and educational grants.
In its press release, the SL-CAAA outlines the historical backdrop of the dispute, which traces its roots back to negotiations between 2012 and 2019. Somaliland and Somalia engaged in discussions that led to agreements on air traffic management, including a provision for sharing air traffic management revenue on a 40% to 60% basis. However, Somaliland asserts that successive Mogadishu governments have consistently failed to honour these agreements, leading to Somalia’s unilateral control over the Air Traffic Management Authority since 2018. During the negotiation process in 2013, Somaliland banned all UN flights from its airports, protesting Mogadishu’s decision to assume complete control of Somalia’s entire airspace.
In addition to denying flights, the SL-CAAA accuses Mogadishu of diverting funds earmarked for developing Somaliland’s airports and reneging on an agreement to equip Hargeisa with complete air traffic management equipment. According to the SL-CAAA, these actions constitute mismanagement and significant disruptions to civilian and cargo flights operating out of Hargeisa.
SL-CAAA has pledged to protect Somaliland’s airspace, stating, “With the support of its people and friendly countries, [we] will take every necessary step to stop the increasing violations and ensure the protection of its airspace.”