A statement from NATO made public last week denies involvement in the brief disappearance of dozens of aircraft from air traffic control radars in several European countries earlier this month.
Air-traffic controllers in Austria, Germany, Slovakia and the Czech Republic reported data on the position, direction, height and speed of aircraft disappeared temporarily from radar systems on June 5 and June 10. The outages posed no serious danger to people on the aircraft travelling at high altitude.
“We saw random outages of aircraft detection within the system of the so-called secondary radar lasting several tens of seconds and up to several minutes. But, thanks to the complete coverage of air space also through classic primary radars, we constantly had information about the positioning of airplanes and operational safety was not threatened,” Richard Kilma, spokesman for the Czech Air Navigation Service, told Reuters.
An Austro Control spokesman said 13 planes crossing Austrian airspace were affected—10 in the first incident and three in the second—but that he heard 50 aircraft in total were impacted across Europe. Austrian air-traffic controllers handled the outage by communicating with the planes by radio and taking steps to ensure continued air traffic safety, including increasing the distances between planes.
The Slovak state Air Traffic Services company claimed the problem was connected to a planned military exercise with the goal of interrupting radio-communication frequencies.
“This activity also caused the temporary disappearance of several targets on the radar display, while in the meantime the planes were in radio contact with air traffic controllers and continued in their flight normally.”
“Immediately after the identification of the problem with the displays, the side organizing the exercises was contacted and the exercise was stopped.”
It did not identify the military force in question, which Austrian media said was the NATO western military alliance.
NATO, in response to a request for comment from Reuters, said that training involving “localized and low-power jamming” was conducted over Hungary during the June 2-6, but denied any jamming exercises on June 5.
“Our assessment is that NATO did not cause any interference with civilian air traffic control frequencies. When NATO conducts such exercises, we coordinate our activities with relevant civilian authorities and only use frequencies provided to us by the host nation,” a NATO military officer said.
In the wake of the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 in March, there has been a growing focus on improving the tracking of passenger aircraft. At a Meeting in May, The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) set a September deadline for implementation plans for temporary solutions announced it will begin considering new international standards to improve airline flight tracking in the long-term. Other technologies, such as satellite tracking technology, have also been brought to the forefront as a possible replacement for more traditional approaches.
The incidents are reportedly being handled by Eurocontrol, the European air navigation safety organization, and EASA, the European air safety agency.