|07ASHGABAT1255||2007-11-20 14:16:00||CONFIDENTIAL||Embassy Ashgabat|
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C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 ASHGABAT 001255
1. (U) This is an action request. See paragraph 11.
NO MORE BLANKET OVERFLIGHT
2. (C) The Government of Turkmenistan notified Embassy
Ashgabat via diplomatic note on 20 November that it will not
renew the blanket overflight and landing clearance number
999C that allows certain U.S. aircraft to use Turkmenistan
airspace with little or no prior notification. Now,
according to the diplomatic note, "permission for the use of
Turkmenistan airspace and landing at the airport in Ashgabat
by U.S. Department of Defense aircraft is possible in
accordance with single-time requests, processed in the
established order and submitted through diplomatic channels."
With this change, U.S. aircraft will now be required to
follow local procedures established in August 2006 that
govern all foreign aircraft entering Turkmenistan airspace.
3. (C) As outlined in a Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA)
diplomatic note of 3 August 2006 to all Diplomatic Missions,
Consular Offices, and International Organizations accredited
in Turkmenistan, requests for authorization to use Turkmen
airspace or land at Turkmen airports should be submitted via
diplomatic channels to MFA not later than:
a. Five days prior for aircraft with a head of state or a
governmental delegation onboard intending to land in
Turkmenistan and/or transit Turkmen airspace.
b. Five days prior for aircraft with a commercial or other
delegation onboard intending to land in Turkmenistan.
c. Ten working days prior for state and other non-civil
aviation aircraft and aircraft carrying hazardous or military
d. In case of a flight plan change, MFA should be informed
72 hours in advance.
4. (C) Requests to overfly or land in Turkmenistan must be
submitted on one of two forms that, for the most part, asks
for standard information that DAO has included in requests
for flight clearance for aircraft not covered by the blanket
clearance (e.g., aircraft carrying a high-level delegation).
However, the 3 August 2006 diplomatic note also asks for
information regarding quantity and nature of cargo, noting
that the presence of dangerous goods, arms, ammunition,
photographic equipment, etc., onboard would require special
permission from the Main Center of the United System of
Turkmenistan ATC. Up to now, for aircraft covered by the
blanket clearance, DAO would inform MFA by diplomatic note
and would only say which articles were not onboard (e.g.,
hazmat material, ammunition, etc.).
5. (C) The current overflight permission, established via an
exchange of diplomatic notes, is due to expire on 30 November
2007. MFA last renewed the overflight permission on 10
November 2006 after only 11 days of consideration. The
clearance number 999C has been in effect since 2003 and
permits U.S. aircraft to transit Turkmen airspace to and from
Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. There
were over 1400 overflights in FY06 and over 1600 in FY07.
MFA CLARIFIES THE PROCESS
6. (C) In a meeting between the U.S. DATT and MFA Consular
Section Chief on 20 November 2007 to discuss this change, the
Consular Chief, who is responsible for such diplomatic
clearances, confirmed that all aircraft overflight and
landing requests must use the new forms that link aircraft
type, mission, cargo, and transit times and locations.
Although the process is designed for a single permission for
a single aircraft on a single day on a single route, MFA
currently grants permissions for up to a month's worth of
overflights and landings for several other countries involved
in operations in Afghanistan, so long as the reportable
information is identical for each flight.
7. (C) The MFA Consular Chief said that for most U.S.
military aircraft the Embassy would have to submit the
request 10 days ahead of time and MFA's response would come
back after about three days. For medevacs, urgent flights,
and aircraft that must change flight plans on short notice or
while en route, the Embassy should submit a new diplomatic
note for each and MFA would make a decision within 24 hours.
ASHGABAT 00001255 002 OF 002
Aircraft are allowed to transit Turkmenistan from the
requested entry/exit times plus 96 hours, but there are no
procedures in place to allow entry earlier than the time
requested, except to submit a new dip note. He implied the
type of cargo on each aircraft was not a big issue, so long
as it was allowed for air transport according to the ICAO
Technical Instructions for Safe Transport of Dangerous Cargo
by Air manual.
U.S. OVERFLIGHTS -- A SUBJECT OF MUCH DISCUSSION
8. (C) The U.S. military presence in Turkmenistan, the
overflights, and gas-and-go operation at Ashgabat Airport are
regular topics of interest at the airport and within the
military attach community. In discussions about MFA's
decision, airport contacts openly questioned the
"humanitarian" nature of the cargo over flying and/or
refueling in Turkmenistan. They added, however, that by
filling out the required forms, they would learn exactly what
was in each cargo shipment. At a recent reception in
response to another attach's question on U.S. air activity,
the Russian defense attach noted that the number of U.S.
overflights varies based on troop rotations.
IMPACT ON OPERATIONS
9. (C) The full impact of this Turkmenistan government
decision on U.S. air operations is unknown, but is bound to
complicate air mission planning and execution, especially
given the volume of overflights. The USDAO and Government of
Turkmenistan offices that deal with overflight and landing
clearances also are not staffed or resourced to handle the
projected increase in air clearance workload. The government
already is slow in responding to individual aircraft
clearances, and foreign aircraft without proper clearance are
re-routed and prevented from entering Turkmenistan airspace.
This change also affects SOS medevac flights. The Embassy
was informed, at the same time, by separate diplomatic note,
that the annual blanket clearance for medical flights would
also be subject to the same requirement to ask for permission
for overflight and landing for each flight.
THE WAY AHEAD
10. (C) MFA wants to be able to say it has approved and has
full knowledge of what is transiting its territory. There
appears to be some leeway, however, in how that information
can be packaged and presented to MFA without requiring a
separate diplomatic note for each of the minimum of 1500
OEF-related flights that could cross Turkmenistan over the
next 12 months. Even if the bulk of the overflights can be
grouped by month, the number of exceptions to the rule may
still make the process untenable. Regardless of the fact
that meeting the required deadlines 100 percent of the time
would be extremely difficult, the Turkmenistan government is
not equipped to process them in a timely fashion. This is a
government whose wheels normally grind exceedingly slowly.
For medical flights, military or civilian, this new procedure
is unworkable. DAO Ashgabat is already in contact with USAF
air planners working out the details of December's airlift
11. (C) Action Request: If the Turkmenistan government is
under pressure (from Russia?) to apply the 3 August 2006
overflight rules to U.S. flights, demanding that the Turkmen
reinstate it probably will not work. While DOD may be able
to come up with a workable solution for scheduled airlift,
the number of short-notice changes to the scheduled flights
will likely pose a problem, and we will no doubt need to
decide how best to report/finesse the type of cargo, since
this issue is the most sensitive one to the Turkmen. In
addition, a waiver would still be needed for urgent civilian
and military medevac flights. Embassy requests that
Department send instructions for a formal response to the
Turkmenistan government on this issue. We also ask that a
similar demarche be made to the Turkmenistan Embassy in