NATO Air Force Exercises „Air Defender” and its Impact on the Civilian Air Traffic

The major NATO exercise “Air Defender 2023” from 12 to 23 June 2023 will be the largest exercise for air warfare operations to date since NATO came into existence, according to  Deutsche Bundeswehr.

According to Bundeswehr, a total of 10,000 soldiersfrom 25 nations with more than 220 aircraft will take part in this drill – including fighter, transport and refuelling aircraft. They are to train, improve and expand cooperation between the nations and their armed forces. A total of 20 different aircraft types have been announced, for example Eurofighters, F-35 jets and A-10 fighter-bombers.

About 100 aircraft alone are coming from the US and will be transferred to Europe during the exercise. According to the air force, this would also happen first in an alliance case – that is, if a NATO member country in Europe were to be attacked.

The main locations of the exercise are the airfields of Schleswig-Jagel and Hohn (both in Schleswig-Holstein), Wunstorf (Lower Saxony) and Lechfeld (Bavaria). In these areas, air traffic will significantly increase. Also included are the sites at Laage (Mecklenburg-Pomerania), Spangdahlem (Rhineland-Palatinate), Volkel (Netherlands) and Čáslav (Czech Republic).

There are three training airspaces over Germany: The Northern Training Area covers parts of Schleswig-Holstein, Bremen and Lower Saxony. It also includes the airspaces over the Bay of Kiel in the Baltic Sea and over the North Sea. The eastern training area extends from the Baltic Sea over large parts of Mecklenburg- Pomerania, Brandenburg, Berlin and Saxony. The southern training area is over Swabia in Bavaria, Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate.

The areas are planned in such a way that residents are affected as little as possible; however, it seems that little thought was given to civilian air traffic.

Planned are 250 take-offs per day with 40 to 80 aircraft, that are splitted into rotations: The Training Area East from 10 am to 2pm, South from 1pm to 5pm and North from 4pm to 8pm (all Local Time).

The German Air Navigation Services (DFS) expects “major effects on civil aviation”, but no precise information which airspace will be closed or in which airspace traffic will have to be reduced was given so far. In addition, no alternative routing is yet organized or announced by German Air Traffic Control. According to the DFS, a detailed elaboration of the traffic forecasts is still being prepared, and passengers must therefore expect longer flight paths and probably considerable delays.

What does this mean for airlines?

As large airspaces will be reserved for the military, less space will be available for civil air traffic and control measures are to be expected. Unfortunately, the very scanty information that has been published so far does not allow for any forward planning for airlines and their customers. Conversely, this also means that taking reasonable measures within the framework of the obligations under the Passenger Rights Regulation regime is severely restricted.

More than keeping a close eye on the announcements and informing passengers in good time about the possible disruptions does not seem possible at the moment. We will keep you informed of any further developments on this topic.

TAL Group