There is a war of words brewing over the skies of two neighboring East African nations. On August 30, 2018, Kenyan air traffic controllers warned of unsafe conditions for flights in and out of Ethiopia’s international airport in the capital Addis Ababa, after the air traffic controllers there went on strike. But Ethiopian authorities have fired back rejecting the “false statements and outright lies” made by Kenyan officials, assuring that the country’s airspace is safe for airlines to operate.

Here is how it started: on August 24, 2018, Ethiopian GARDA news issued an alert stating that air traffic controllers (ATCs) at the Ethiopian Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) in Addis Ababa plan to stage a nationwide strike on August 27, 2018, to demand better pay and improved working conditions.

Days later, on August 30, 2018, the Kenyan Air Traffic Controllers’ Association (ATCA) issued a communiqué  in which the association’s official Peter Ang’awa expressed his “deep concerns” over several serious safety issues the organization noticed following the strike in Ethiopia.

According to Ang’awa, “Letters of agreement between Addis Ababa and Nairobi [the capital of Kenya] on coordination procedures are not being followed. Flights inbound to Nairobi from Addis Ababa [Addis Ababa Bole International Airport (ADD)] are calling Nairobi Control without prior estimates, with the possibility of creating serious air-misses with known traffic at the transfer point,” as quoted by Kenya’s Standard Media

In the communiqué, Ang’awa also reportedly noted that there have been “several incidences of loss of standard separation between aircrafts at the points of transfers”, citing at least one serious event involving state-owned Ethiopian Airlines.

According to the official, flights are entering the Nairobi airspace with wrong flight levels: "Some Eastbound flights are coming in with westbound flight levels while some Westbound flights have Eastbound levels increasing chances of serious air misses," he is quotes by Standard Media.

Ang’awa has confirmed Kenyan ATCA’s concerns to The Associated Press, saying “issues of concern have been raised by professionals in the industry. We have raised those issues.” Ethiopia’s civil aviation chief, Wosenyeleh Hunegnaw, on his part, also confirmed to the AP that Kenya and Sudan have both raised concerns about the safety of inbound and outbound flights in Ethiopia. However, he called the allegations “totally unfounded and an utter lie.”

According to Wosenyeleh, all of these claims “have been assessed case by case based on radar data”. “Air traffic controllers across the world have the tendency to collaborate in a show of solidarity when issues related to benefits and pay are raised, and we have informed this to the international civil aviation body,” Wosenyeleh was quoted as saying by The AP.

Kenya is not the only party who has voiced its concerns about risky conditions over Ethiopian airspace. According to the International Federation of Air Line Pilots’ Associations (IFALPA) safety bulletin, dated August 31, 2018, the association states it “has been informed of some ATC coverage difficulties” within Addis Ababa flight information region and that air controllers indicate that aircraft are entering the adjacent Nairobi and Khartoum (the capital of Sudan), airspaces “in an uncoordinated manner.”

But the official message coming from Ethiopia’s CAA, “with regard to the specific false statements and outright lies” contained in the Kenyan ATCA’s communiqué, is that its airspace is “safe”. In a press statement released on September 2, 2018, the authority says it “fully and categorically rejects the false and baseless statements” made by Kenyan officials.

Ethiopian authorities challenge their Kenyan counterparts even further claiming that the ATCA’s aim is “to lend support” to what it call as an “illegal strike” by Ethiopian air traffic controllers: “It is completely unacceptable … for the Kenyan Air Traffic Controllers to express solidarity with ATCs in Ethiopia that are illegally on strike by making false and misleading statements about the safety of Ethiopian airspace management,” the statement reads.

The CAA goes on to assure the public, airlines, national civil aviation authorities, and international and regional bodies, that the Area Control Center (ACC) in Addis Ababa is manned “by adequate number of well trained, highly capable” professionals who are vetted with ICAO Annex 1 provisions.

It also says that the same applies to the approach and aerodrome areas that are manned by qualified professionals, and that qualified air traffic controllers have also stepped up to assist the operations there.

Finally, the CAA asserts that their safety measures can be easily verified by the ATC activities and communications, as they are recorded and protected.

Meanwhile, Biniyam Demssie, Team Leader of Media Relations at Ethiopian Airlines, said this in an e-mail to AeroTime: “Ethiopian Airlines Group would like to reassure the general travelling public that the Ethiopian Airspace remains very safe and highly secured even after the illegal strike of the Ethiopian Civil Aviation Air Traffic Controllers”.

Ethiopian officials say that airline operations and flights to and from the country have not been affected and that the air traffic controllers who were on strike, have returned to their duties.