25.10.19

Flight Laundering

There was a time when the novel concept that Jordanians overfly Israel and Palestinian territories was a novel concept. Whenever we sat in ICAO meetings in Cairo or some other capital, the word "Israel" spoken made many uncomfortable. The attendance evaded that by saying "Lima Lima Lima Lima." 

It was not a Peruvian patriotic chant or some sort of debilitating stutter. It was a reference to the Phoentic pronunciation of LLLL. The ICAO code for Tel Aviv FIR, the airspace that Israel manages.

Israeli Airspace from the ICAO map viewer
People where uncomfortable acknowledging the world Israel meant something now. I always thought it was a rather "Head-in-the sand" approach to dealing with the problem

Laundering as it where the word Israel or Tel Aviv and cleaning it into the cacophonous  "Lima Lima Lima Lima" always seemed ridiculous to me. 

That was something that we got used, public pressure to conform to the official line of no recognition and no peace was always there. On the other hand, many rumors of normalization went on for years on end.

Tel Aviv FIR falls under the Paris office in ICAO, meaning it is considered in EUR. While a stone-throw away (no pun intended) from Europe, Israel is solidly in the Middle East, however, it was never welcomed in the MID region which covers the Middle East. 

The move to the Paris office was logical to the Middle East and the Israelis. So much so that a few years later, Israeli airspace is now under a comprehensive agreement with the Euro-control.
The airplane landing in Marka Airport with a Squawk 0431
That was then, this is now. 

On Tuesday the 22nd of October, an airplane landed in Amman's Marka Airport on 19:09 GMT.

Two minutes later the aircraft departed the same airport in the opposite direction and with a different squawk code. The two minute stop could be pushing the edge of what is legal as it doesn't seem the flight has truly terminated to require a new code. 

Preparing for a proper departure in a jet aircraft usually needs no less than 5 minutes at least and usually around 15-20 minutes. Being a night flight necessitates more caution. Someone was in a rush 

To land on Runway 06 in Marka is not normal and someone was coordinating 

A squawk is a code that allows Aircraft to talk to secondary radars. The series of codes allocated to each country can usually be a tell-tale of the origin of the aircraft 

This makes it seem that the flight originated from Amman. For all intents and purposes, someone put an effort to try to make it look like the aircraft originated from Jordan. 
The Airplane departing with Squawk 0710
The aircraft is US-registered and media reports are actually pointing to Mark Esper's visit to Saudi and a possible meeting including Israeli officials
A tweet from Avi Scharf, an Israeli journalist, actually made this laundering public. The journalist seems to have a tracking passion. Many of his twitter posts point to FlightRadar24 images and some images of what seems to be a flightfeeder

A previous tweet by Avi explained that this flight laundering is common place. In the strained public perception of Israel by citizens of gulf countries, it seems to legitimize the flight and make it clean. 

Many other media outlets also referenced the same event to point to the possibility of Netanyahu being on the airplane

The aircraft also did a small stop on the way back in Marka Airport, again changing the squawk code. This time a more normal turnaround of 20 minutes ensued. 

These antics were not envisaged when the air transport system was designed. It does mean that the operators and pilots of such flights are usually put under more pressure and this can lead to undesirable results if not incidents and accidents.

The local regulator in Jordan will find itself helpless. The political pressure to maintain the relationship with Saudi Arabia and Israel at the bare minimum will override any bureaucrat desire to apply simple and well-established procedures that guarantee safety. Flight Laundering seems to be the equivalent of money laundering in politics.

 Peace, Out!

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