Finland scrambles fighter jet to respond to Russian aircraft

Saturday, September 15, 2007

A file photo of an Ilyushian Il-76 similar to the one that violated Finland's airspace

On Friday morning, Finland scrambled an F-18 Hornet fighter jet to intercept a Russian Ilyushin Il-76 strategic airlifter, which had violated Finnish airspace.

The aircraft ventured about 4.5 kilometers (3 miles) into Finland's airspace near Porvoo over a period of three minutes, according to Finland's defense ministry. Finland's Frontier Guard has initiated an investigation.

Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen has stated that Finland would like an explanation from Russia regarding the reasons for its actions, but he has not made an official protest against Russia.

"These kinds of (violations) must not happen, that's our clear message here," Vanhanen said. "And when they do happen, then they need to be sorted out between the countries in question. That has to be done this time too." Vanhanen also stated that he felt it was important the incident was thoroughly investigated because of safety implications incurred if aircraft stray from their designated flight paths.

A United States F-18 Hornet similar to the one sent by Finland to intercept the transport aircraft

Defense Minister Jyri Hakamies confirmed that there would be a diplomatic meeting as a result between Finnish and Russian officials in order to discuss ways of preventing similar violations in the future.

Russia apologised to Finland last year following a large number of similar incidents over the space of two years, but only after Finland had protested. Russia also promised to review their charts.

According to officials, such violations as this latest one were still to be expected, due to a combination of international airspace being limited to a narrow strip off the South coast of Finland, and a high level of Russian air force activity over the Gulf of Finland. Russia regularly uses the area to fly missions, mostly with strategic airlifters, between Kaliningrad, capital of Kaliningrad Oblast and located between Poland and Lithuania, and St Petersburg in Russia.

Similar incidents have been recorded in other Baltic states, particularly in Finland's Southern neighbour, Estonia. The most serious such incident involved the October 2005 crash of a Russian jet fighter in Lithuania.