Greece’s armed forces are on standby following a spike in the number of national air space violations by Turkish aircraft over the Aegean Sea.
Turkish aircraft carried out 1,017 violations in the first five months of 2014 compared to 636 encroachments the previous year, according to data from Greece’s National Defense General Staff (GEETHA). However, statistics indicate a significant drop in the number of aircraft conducting the breaches which fell from 1,084 to 576 between the two years.
GEETHA officials point out a change in the pattern of violations. Until recently, a squadron of F-16 fighter jets – usually four or six – would take off from Balikesir or another military base along the northern Aegean coast and fly over the sea, occasionally cutting through the 10-mile zone of Greek airspace around the country.
Turkey insists Greek air space extends only 6 nautical miles offshore.
The entire flight would usually last no more than 20 minutes and the Turkish jets would be chased off by a pair of Greek fighter jets, before returning to base.
According to Greek army officials, Turkey is increasingly relying on its newly purchased CN-235 aircraft, a medium-range twin-engined transport plane built by Spain’s CASA, a subsidiary of European aerospace company EADS. These planes take off from the Topel naval air base in the north and fly along Turkey’s western coast before landing at the Dalaman air base to the south, close to the Greek island of Rhodes.
The Turkish pilots do not submit a flight plan, which goes against the rules of Athens Flight Information Region (FIR).
Greek officials say the flight path of Turkey’s CN-235 planes takes them over the Dodecanese islands, resulting in a higher number of encroachments. Meanwhile, they fly at a lower speed, up to 450 km/h, which means that they need to be monitored by Greek jets for about 2.5 hours before they reach their destination.