Crash exposes cracks in security

Emerging reports on the reaction by the Greek Civil Aviation Service (YPA) to Nicosia’s notification at 9.37 a.m. on Sunday that it had lost contact with the doomed Helios Airways Boeing 737 make for some interesting but very unpleasant reading. The Cypriot plane had been flying inside the Athens FIR (flight information region) for 30 minutes yet Greece’s aviation authorities were unaware of the emergency situation, such as who was sitting in the pilot’s seat or what his intentions might have been. With chilling naivete, Athens’s traffic controllers said that there was no need for concern as, according to radar, the plane was on course, meaning that there was no deviation from the international air corridor. Therefore, without any contact with the outside world, an aircraft was flying somewhere over Myconos. The notification by Cypriot officials that they had lost contact with the plane’s crew had failed to sound the YPA alarm. If we consider this as an example of our civil aviation officials’ monitoring of Greek air space, as well as of complacency among key figures on their performance, then its certainly time for the prime minister to step in. We should remember, too, that the crash of the Chinook army helicopter in the northern Aegean about a year ago also sparked criticism of YPA. Regrettably, criticism came from a minority of the Greek press, which pointed to YPA’s responsibility for any aircraft flying within the contours of Greece’s air space, as this stems from the law and international regulations. After that earlier crash, the ruling conservative party’s officials kept mum on the issue, in order to protect the defense minister, leaving all questions about the civil aviation authorities’ monitoring system unanswered. The issue has gained new intensity following Sunday’s tragic air crash. Any evidence surrounding the fall of the Cypriot aircraft, and the deep sorrow caused by the loss of the 121 passengers, should not be left to overshadow the political dimensions of the tragedy. National security issues can only be tackled with cold logic.