The Somalia airspace is emerging as a perilous zone for airlines, as a recent incident of near mid-air collision involving Qatar Airways and an Ethiopian Airline raises concerns over safety protocols.

The two carriers, both operating scheduled flights on the same airspace, encountered conflicting instructions regarding altitude changes, narrowly avoiding a catastrophic event.

The Qatar Airways crew reportedly received instructions from the Air Control Tower in Mogadishu to ascend to an altitude of 40,000 feet at 09:32 UTC, unaware that the Ethiopian carrier was on a converging path.

The Somaliland Civil Aviation and Airports Authority (SCAAA) confirmed the incident, highlighting the potential danger arising from miscommunications.

“At around 12:32 pm in East Africa, the Qatar Airways flight (Qatar 6U), arriving from the Valley to Entebbe and maintaining a constant altitude of 38,000 feet, was erroneously directed by the controllers in Mogadishu to climb to 40,000 feet,” stated SCAAA in an official statement.

The Qatar Airways Boeing 787 Dreamliner and the Ethiopian carrier utilising an A350 were at 38,000 feet and 39,000 feet, respectively, with each in contact with different air traffic control centers—Mogadishu and Hargeisa.

This incident is not an isolated occurrence, as Qatar Airways was involved in a similar incident earlier this month, encountering conflicting information during a flight from Doha to Mogadishu.

Complicating matters, Somalia and Somaliland are embroiled in an ongoing airspace dispute. While the Somaliland airspace is not officially recognised by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), which acknowledges the Somalia Civil Aviation Authority (SCAA) controlled from Mogadishu.

In response to the incident, the Dreamliner activated its Traffic Collision Avoidance System (TCAS), which issued a resolution advisory instructing a descent to 38,000 feet.

The TCAS serves as a critical safety feature, designed to prevent mid-air collisions by alerting flight crews to potential threats from other aircraft sharing the same airspace.

Qatar Airways, operating with a commitment to safety, stressed its significant investments in state-of-the-art systems, the carrier told Simply Flying in a statement.

These systems, the airline asserted, provide their highly trained pilots with multifaceted capabilities to manage air traffic and ensure safe separation in complex global airspace.

gandae@businessdayafrica.org