FAA alerts pilots to possible weapons fire at Ethiopian capital's airport

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued an alert on Wednesday that planes functioning at a busy airport in Ethiopia may be “directly or indirectly exposed to ground weapons fire and/or surface-to-air fire,” as conflict in the country inches closer to the capital of Addis Ababa.

The FAA said it was sending out a warning to pilots because of the “ongoing clashes” between Ethiopian government forces and opposition Tigrayan ones, which have intensified in recent weeks, according to the advisory. Thousands of people have died amid the conflict over the past year, according to The Associated Press

“The FAA urged pilots and operators that hold U.S. airworthiness certificates to use caution while flying in Ethiopian airspace below 29,000 feet due to ongoing clashes between opposition groups and military forces,” the FAA told The Hill in a statement.

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On Thursday, the U.S. Embassy in Ethiopia issued an advisory again urging American citizens in the country to leave using commercially available options, noting that it will likely not be able to help with evacuations if those avenues become unavailable. The embassy said the security environment in Ethiopia is “very fluid.”

The FAA’s alert said that while there have not been any reports of disruptions at the Addis Ababa Bole International Airport and “no indication of an intent to threaten civil aviation,” the dangers posed for aircraft that are approaching and departing could grow if Tigray fighters breach the capital, the AP reported.

The agency said that Tigray forces “likely possess a variety of anti-aircraft capable weapons, including rocket-propelled grenades, anti-tank weapons, low-caliber anti-aircraft artillery, and man-portable air-defense systems,” oftentimes referred to a MANPADS, which reportedly have the capacity to hit an altitude of 25,000 feet above ground level.

Bole International Airport is a busy epicenter, from which the state-owned Ethiopian Airlines operates, the AP noted.

Efforts by Tigray forces have recently ramped up as they move closer to Addis Ababa with hopes of pressuring Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed to step aside, the wire service reported. Tigray forces have reportedly teamed up with another armed group, the Oromo Liberation Army.

The Tigrays have specifically said they want the Ethiopian governor to remove a blockade on their region that has been in place for months, including government regulations on flights over the area, the AP reported. Food, medicine and other humanitarian aid has reportedly not made it into Tigray for more than a month, after the country’s military restarted its airstrikes there after not doing so since June.

Updated 5:21 p.m.