30 October 2003 Edition
Military jets in near miss with Irish airliner
According to the Celtic League, which has a long history of military minororing in the Irish Sea area, an incident during a NATO exercise last month in which RAF fighter jets strayed into the path of an Irish civil airliner flying between Cork and Edinburgh is being classed by the British Ministry of Defence as an 'Airprox'.
An Airprox is "a situation in which, in the opinion of a pilot or controller, the distance between aircraft as well as their relative positions and speed was such that the safety of the aircraft involved was or may have been compromised". The civil aircraft involved was forced to take evasive action because of the presence of the military planes.
At the time of the incident involving an Aer Arann flight with 32 people on board the MoD said the RAF aircraft involved were not connected to the NATO exercise. However, it is clear that safety rules were breached by the military aircraft as the civilian flight was in a designated flight path for commercial aircraft over the north Channel to the north-west of the Isle of Man.
The Celtic League registered a protest about the incident with the Ministry of Defence and in a reply the Directorate of Air Staff (Secretariat) 1, the body with responsibility with regard to "Airproxes" - near misses in the air - say:
"With regards to the incident mentioned in your letter, I can confirm that the UKAB have received a report of an Airprox which appears to match your description. This Airprox is currently under full investigation".
The UKAB (the United Kingdom Airprox Board) which is the body responsible for investigating this type of incident, is unlikely to comment ahead of its investigation's conclusions. However, the MoD has advised the League that they maintain close links with UKAB and "would pre-empt any recommendation should circumstances merit it, in the interests of flight safety".
"At this point in time, it is unclear what steps the Dublin Government have taken to raise concerns with the British," says Celtic League Secretary General, Bernard Moffatt. "The Celtic League did write to the Taoiseach expressing concern at the incident and reminding him that many people still had an open mind about British military involvement in the loss of an Irish airliner over 30 years ago in which 61 people died."