Two Russian Tupolev Tu-95 bombers caused chaos when they entered Irish airspace in February, a new report by the Irish Examiner reveals. One passenger plane traveling from the US had to be diverted and another commercial aircraft was grounded in Dublin until the skies were safe again.
The planes’ transponders, which alert air towers to their presence and coordinates, were switched off. The bombers first flew through Norwegian airspace, where they were detected, and then progressed along the Hebrides towards Irish airspace. They flew at 27,000 feet along Ireland’s eastern, southern and western coasts, coming as close as 25 miles, and then doubled back towards Britain, at which point they were intercepted by British RAF jets.
Details were hazy when news first broke of the incident, but the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) revealed to the Irish Examiner newspaper that the Russian places had posed a collision risk for civilian planes traveling in Irish airspace.
The IAA statement to the Examiner confirmed “the Russian military aircraft did not have their transponders switched on at the time” and that, per the advice of the RAF, “one aircraft’s departure from Dublin was delayed” to ensure it did not fly into the path of the Tu-95s.
The IAA also confirmed that “as a precautionary measure to ensure safety was maintained, the routing of one en route aircraft was changed to ensure that its track was sufficiently separated from the track of the two Russian military aircraft.” It is now understood that this plane was a passenger jet flying from North America.
Following a similar earlier incident where a Russian aircraft carrying a nuclear weapon (which was not live) flew into Irish airspace, the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs had requested assurance from the Russian ambassador that Russian military planes would not fly into Irish airspace without prior notice or with transponders shut off. The second breech of airspace happened after this.
Irish Minister for Defense Simon Coveney told the Examiner that the government was “clearly not happy” Russia had ignored their request but added “I’d be surprised if it was a Russian tactic to upset Ireland.” He also commended the IAA for managing the situation “safely and effectively.”
Russia is thought to have been communicating its annoyance over UK action on Ukraine. Ireland does not appear to have been the target of intimidation.