Somalia and Somaliland should cooperate on Airspace issue

By ABDIKARIM ALI

As per international law, Somalia Federal Government is the only entity that is entitled to negotiate ICAO in the process of regaining airspace. It means the airspace above Somaliland is officially belongs to Somalia. However, Somaliland is essential in the process of regaining control of Somalia’s airspace management. As the airspace is belongs to all Somali citizens, consensus must be established. This consensus means greater cooperation between Somalians is necessary, in order to create one influential voice and regain control of the airspace.

Since 2012, there have been several meetings and talks between Somaliland and Somalia, including Istanbul II Communiqué, where the two parties agreed on establishing the Air Traffic Control Board (headquartered in Hargeisa, Somaliland) and four members of technical committee (two from Somaliland and two from Somalia). This agreement was supported by the United Nations envoy in Somalia/Somaliland and the head of the UN Assistance Mission in Somalia at the time, Nicholas Kay, who described the agreement as a model for other areas of mutually beneficial cooperation.

However, since the establishment of the agreement, Somalia has sought to reclaim control and management of the airspace without taking into account previously signed agreements. Somalia is using its sovereign rights and legal basis as an autocratic means to ignore Somaliland as a partner. This move has angered Somaliland, who calls for the establishment of the joint Air Traffic Control Board with the Centre in Hargeisa, as agreed during the talk in Turkey, or to establish two entirely distinct and separate centres in Hargeisa and Mogadishu respectively, or the UN, or another third country to provide air navigation services until an agreement is reached between Somalia and Somaliland.

Because of tension between Somaliland and Somalia, in 2013 Somaliland has banned all UN flights from landing at its airports and threatened to close its airspace to UN flights if the Istanbul II agreement is not implemented. Practically, Somaliland is not capable to close upper airspace (legally and technically) or take military action against airlines that defy the ban. However, this threat could indicate that Somalia’s airspace is an unsafe conflict zone, and thousands of commercial flights that currently use the airspace could be rerouted. This rerouting would result in the loss of overfly revenues and may give reason for ICAO and FISS to continue managing Somali airspace for as long as possible.

Neither Somaliland nor Somalia wants the airspace to be closed, to be delegated to third parties, or to remain in the hands of ICAO and FISS. Therefore, Somalia and Somaliland should join together, make compromises and take brave decisions in order to accomplish the long overdue goal of reclaiming the country’s airspace.