Ankara says a Larnaca-bound plane never submitted a timely request to fly through Turkish airspace, accusing the Republic of Cyprus of using the pandemic to score points for political gain.
A flight operated by Russian airline Azur Air, which was chartered by government officials in the Republic of Cyprus in an effort to deliver medical supplies from China, made headlines around the world after aviation authorities in Turkey denied the pilot’s request to fly through Turkish airspace.
Cypriot Transport Minister Yiannis Karousos said 36 tons of medical supplies from the People's Republic were delivered Wednesday night in what he described as "adventurous flight, since Turkish authorities did not allow the plane to go through Turkish airspace."
Ankara accused Greek Cypriots of 'exploiting' Turkey's policy on overflight permissions regarding the Republic of Cyprus, saying exceptions are made for humanitarian reasons and flight emergencies
Following media reports about Turkey blocking medical supplies to Cyprus, a spokesperson for the Commission and the European External Action Service, Peter Stano, told the Cyprus News Agency that the EU was aware of the situation. The official added that Ankara's contribution to the global fight against the coronavirus pandemic did not go unnoticed.
"Therefore we would expect and encourage Turkey to maintain this spirit of solidarity without discrimination", Peter Stano stated.
But Ankara fired back accusing Greek Cypriots of "exploiting" Turkey's policy on overflight permissions regarding the Republic of Cyprus, while adding that exceptions are made for humanitarian reasons and flight emergencies.
Knews reported on Thursday that it had not been clear whether Wednesday’s initial flight plan from China had been altered in mid-air but Karousos said the chartered flight had been organized by his ministry officials in coordination with other agencies.
Turkish foreign ministry spokesperson Hami Aksoy said the Larnaca-bound plane did not submit a timely clearance request prior to taking off in China, adding that the pilots made the request only while approaching the Turkish airspace.
“Under these circumstances, the aircraft was denied permission to enter the Turkish airspace as per the standard restrictions regarding flights involving the GCA. In any event, a reasonable period of time to allow for any coordination of an exceptional permission was not accorded,” Aksoy said.
The flight took off in Tainjin’s Binhai airport in northern China Wednesday early morning. Additional reports said the pilot did not have enough fuel on board to reach the island without going through Turkish airspace. After requesting and being denied permission to enter Turkish airspace, the plane landed in the afternoon outside Moscow at Vnukovo, the charter airline’s hub, in order to refuel and for a new crew to take over the last leg of the flight over Bulgarian airspace.
But Aksoy said it could have been possible to grant an exception on humanitarian grounds had a request been submitted in a timely manner.
“As a matter of fact, clearance for such flights have been granted before,” he added.
The Turkish official went on to criticize the failure to submit a timely overflight request, accusing the Republic of Cyprus of playing politics.
“The failure to submit a timely application for overflight and the subsequent abuse of the humanitarian attitude of Turkey by the GCA, despite being fully aware of regular practice, is a manifestation of its efforts to exploit certain issues for political agenda, contrary to the interests of its own people,” he added.