Estonia says Russia violates international rules with GPS interference

FILE PHOTO: Finnair plane is seen on the tarmac at Helsinki-Vantaa airport in Vantaa

By Stine Jacobsen and Anne Kauranen

COPENHAGEN (Reuters) -Estonia accused Russia of violating international airspace regulations by interfering with GPS signals and the Baltic nation's foreign minister said it will take up the matter with its NATO and European Union partners.

Finnair on Monday announced a temporary suspension of its flights to Tartu in eastern Estonia for a month due to ongoing GPS disturbances that prevented two aircraft from landing.

The flights will be suspended to allow the airport to install an alternative approach method not relying on GPS, Finnair said. Most airports have such equipment installed.

The Finnish airline said it did not know where the interference originated but that there had been an increase in incidents since 2022.

The carrier has reported similar problems near Russia's Kaliningrad exclave and Finland's eastern border with Russia.

"GPS interference in Estonian airspace by RF (Russian Federation) has affected civil aviation in our region. In doing so Russia violates international regulations," Estonia's Minister of Foreign Affairs Margus Tsahkna said on social media X late on Monday.

He did not provide evidence to support the claim.

Neither the Kremlin nor Russia's Defence Ministry immediately replied to requests for comment.

GPS interference is now taking place at lower altitudes and in a wider area than six months ago, the head of the Finnish Pilots' Association's safety and security committee told Reuters.

"It has begun to come to the north side of the Gulf of Finland as well. And the same has happened in Sweden, where it has reached the Swedish airspace," said Lauri Soini, himself a Finnair pilot.

GPS jamming had been observed as far away as Britain and Germany, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis told Reuters.

"This is part of Russia's hostile activities, which have been carried out before, but now their intensification is being observed," Landsbergis said, adding that Lithuania was calling for a common response from target countries and NATO allies.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency's (EASA) is not monitoring interferences in real time but open-source information showed high interference in the area on the day the two planes were diverted, a spokesperson said.

Rerouting to alternate airports with better landing aids is however not seen as a safety issue but rather an operational one, the spokesperson said in a written comment.

"If we judged the situation was fundamentally unsafe, we would need to take further action to ensure aviation safety."

Tsahkna said Estonia would address the issue with other NATO and EU countries and that he had discussed it with his Latvian, Lithuanian, Finnish and Swedish counterparts.

Germany this month said Russia was very likely behind a series of disturbances affecting navigation in the Baltic region.

The German Defence Ministry pointed to Kaliningrad as their source, though it declined to give any details citing reasons of military security.

(Reporting by Stine Jacobsen in Copenhagen, Joanna Plucinska in London, Essi Lehto and Anne Kauranen in Helsinki and Andrius Sytas in Vilnius, Editing by Tomasz Janowski and Ed Osmond)