In a unique move, non-neighbour Hungary will manage Kosovo's upper airspace, which should translate into shorter flights.
By Linda Karadaku for Southeast European Times in Pristina – 02/07/12
The move is expected to affect potentially millions of air travellers. [Reuters]
NATO has selected Hungary to re-open Kosovo upper airspace to international traffic, starting in the autumn of 2013, assuming all conditions are met. Upper airspace is the zone 9,600m above sea level, and reopening it to civilian traffic will shorten air routes, cut fuel costs and reduce emissions. Air navigation services in low airspace are provided by Kosovo air traffic control.
Dritan Gjonbalaj, general director of the Kosovo Civil Aviation Authority, told SETimes "This has been a long process, very carefully led by NATO, and required a consensual decision of all the member states of NATO. Hungary, as a friend of the Republic of Kosovo and a member of NATO and the EU, is a partner with which we will co-operate in providing safe and efficient services in our upper airspace."
Hungarian air traffic controller HungaroControl will perform the job. Its general manager, Kornel Szepessy, has told the media the company would have 40 to 50 flight controllers directing the 400 to 500 aircraft navigating Kosovo airspace every day. According to Hungarian media reports, HungaroControl will exert control for three to five years, but Gjonbalaj said the NATO Council did not define the duration.
Agron Demi, executive director of Kosovo Institute for Advanced Studies (GAP) told SETimes that NATO asked member countries in December to apply for Kosovo's upper airspace control. "The first problem that emerged was ... how to find a state that is territorially close to Kosovo and has the technical possibility to make an effective control. The best solution was Hungary."
Normalising Balkan airspace, with a particular emphasis on opening Kosovo's upper air space, has been addressed since 2003 in one particular forum, the Balkans Airspace Normalisation Meeting, led by NATO. The aim has been to find a temporary solution, which would be technically, practically and politically appropriate for both Kosovo authorities and NATO member states, Gjonbalaj said.
He told Financial Times that some of the services will be purchased from the domestic provider Air Navigation which means Kosovo will receive some revenues. The country will also be investing in its airspace management to be able to take over air traffic control when the time comes.
GAP explained that currently, rather than a direct route through the former Yugoslavia, a flight from Vienna to Pristina entails traveling through Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and Macedonia, before entering Kosovo from the south. "The flight is 30 minutes longer, more expensive and more polluting," it said.
Prior to the 1990's, Kosovo was part of two important flight corridors involving more than 400 flights per day. According to the 1999 Kumanovo Agreement between NATO and the former Yugoslavia, KFOR controls and co-ordinates the use of airspace and an established Air Safety Zone. Air traffic to or from Pristina must enter or exit Kosovo airspace from the south, via Skopje.
Kosovo would not be unique in the region in having a foreign company control its upper airspace. Montenegro's upper airspace is controlled from Belgrade; Bosnia and Herzegovina's upper airspace is controlled from two providers: one in Croatia controls western BiH, while one in Serbia controls the east.
"The reasons for cross-border provision of air navigation services are different: above all, to optimise operations and increase the efficiency of air traffic flow. In some cases, there are also political and economic elements that lead to the provision of services by an operator of another state," Gjonbalaj explained.