Russians Claim U.S. Spy Plane Endangered Commercial Flights


Russia’s Federal Air Transport Agency says it will lodge a diplomatic protest after a U.S. “spy plane” (possibly a Bombardier Challenger) allegedly forced two aircraft to deviate over the Black Sea. Although the aviation agency didn’t single out which NATO nation caused the alleged incident, the Russian Foreign Ministry was less subtle. “The actions of the U.S. Air Force have created a threat to civil aviation,” ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on messaging app Telegram. “If now a catastrophe in the airspace over the open waters of the Black Sea has been averted, this does not mean that the United States and NATO can continue to risk people’s lives with impunity.”

According to the Russians, the “NATO” aircraft descended through the flight path of an Aeroflot flight from Tel Aviv to Moscow on Dec. 3. The crew of the Aeroflot flight reportedly had the other aircraft visually and descended about 1,500 feet to avoid a conflict. The Russians said another aircraft, possibly a regional jet, had to divert to avoid the aircraft while en route from Sochi to Skopje. Tensions are high in the area as the Russians mass troops and equipment on the border with Ukraine.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.

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  1. For those who don’t follow how passenger airliner flights are misused:

    1) The Russian navy is notorious for locking on to overhead airliners with missiles for practise. It’s believed that sometimes they have accidently pressed the trigger.

    2) Passenger airliners are sometimes closely followed by military jets to mask radar. Since radar operators can’t be sure if that’s in progress or not, they fire at airliners, as happened recently over Iran with Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 in 2020.

    3) Iraq upgraded a Dassault Falcon F50 business jet with radar, hard points and Exocet missiles, and damaged the USS Stark in 1987. It’s believed that the Stark’s radar systems didn’t lockon because the F50 is a civilian jet.

    So beyond a traffic avoidance issue as mentioned in the article, there’s also other issues at play from a military view point.

    • Odd.

      Certainly since then at least one Allied military has been practicing radar detection of a business jet likely to be available cheap thus attractive to enemies to use.

  2. The Russians routinely operate without transponders over international waters through international airways around the North Sea, Scandinavia etc etc. Swedish ATC has had to divert flights on advise of air defence radars on several ocasions because the Russian military aircraft were not visible on civil atc radars.
    Somewhere, sometime, this kids of crap will get somebody hurt.

  3. US forces do make mistakes in such flying, as airline flights often do.

    But IMO Russia is just bleating for political gain, especially at this tense time in eastern Europe.
    (Russia is claiming NATO is meddling in its sphere of influence, Ukraine this time, standard tactics of oppressive regimes, often trying the culture/ethnic line as Nationalsozialistiche Germany did in the 1930s.)

  4. Russian military aircraft routinely endanger both military and civilian airplanes by buzzing them and forcing them to alter course to avoid a collision. In this instance, the Russians are trying to prevent US and NATO aircraft from monitoring the massive troop buildup on the Ukraine border ahead of a possible invasion of a sovereign nation. Their concern for passenger safety is truly touching (NOT!!!).

    • Spy satellites too.

      But aircraft can listen to radio communications so estimate force strengths and obtain details of plans if decoding works.

      (Over Afghanistan in late August the US had airborne listening aircraft with interpreters on board, to pass intelligence to ground forces in real time.
      Trivia: some of those aircraft were KC-135s that could refuel other KC-135s if needed.)