Two F-16 fighter jets operated by the Indonesian Air Force intersected a 777F operated by Ethiopian Airlines as it was passing over Indonesian airspace, and forced the pilots to land at Batam International Airport (BTH) in western Indonesia. Indonesian officials claimed the plane was flying illegally over the country’s airspace, which Ethiopian refuted.
An unscheduled charter segment was added to Ethiopian Airlines’ regular scheduled service between Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa International Airport (ADD) and Hong Kong (HKG) in order to deliver an aircraft engine to Singapore (SIN) for urgent maintenance, according to Ethiopian Airlines.
As the aircraft entered Indonesian airspace, Air Force authorities claimed the unscheduled flight had no permit to fly over the country’s territory, and subsequently ordered the two fighter jets, based in Pekan Baru, to accompany the Ethiopian aircraft to a nearby Indonesian airport for further investigation.
Ethiopian responded to the Indonesia authorities’ allegation in a statement, and said that the flight had legal authority to fly over Indonesia’s airspace, in accordance with Article 5 in the International Civil Aviation Organization’s (ICAO) Chicago Convention on International Civil Aviation. According to the convention, non-scheduled flights can overfly the air space of a friendly country without prior permission.
Ethiopian Airlines said it has resolved the issue by explaining the protocol and sharing details of the flight with Indonesian authorities. The flight crew is now resting in a hotel before completing the flight.
This is not the first time Indonesian authorities have forced flights without proper clearance to fly over its territory, to land for inspection. The last known case was a UN-chartered 737-700 operated by Pakistan International Airlines back in March 2011. In that case, the aircraft entered Indonesian airspace while trying to avoid poor weather, en route to East Timor.