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Last Updated: Wednesday, 24 May 2006, 10:44 GMT 11:44 UK
Air duel risk to Aegean tourists
Greek fighter jets (photo: Greek Ministry of Defence)
Greek fighters are often scrambled to see off Turkish jets
Greek airline pilots have warned that holidaymakers flying to the Aegean Islands are being endangered by duels between Greek and Turkish warplanes.

They also urged the EU to pressure Turkey to stop sending war planes into Greek airspace after a mid-air crash.

A Greek F-16 fighter collided with a Turkish F-16 over the southern Aegean Sea on Tuesday.

The Turkish pilot survived but a search is continuing for the Greek pilot - who is officially considered "missing".

Greece says its planes scrambled to intercept Turkish jets in its airspace, a claim denied by Turkey.

The Greek and Turkish press have praised their respective governments' insistence that the crash should not affect bilateral relations.

It is only a matter of time before a warplane crashes into a commercial plane
Dimitris Papadimitriou
Crash Investigation Board

The BBC's Malcolm Brabant in Athens says the accident happened just as the summer holiday season gets under way, with thousands of tourists taking flights to Greek islands close to the combat zone of this Aegean Cold War.

According to the British Civil Aviation Authority, nearly 3.5 million passengers flew to Greece from British airports in 2005.

Greek protests about Turkish incursions into Athenian airspace have been consistently ignored, despite the deaths of 90 Greek pilots in mock dog fights over the past 30 years.

"The European Union must make Turkey respect the law," says Dimitris Papadimitriou, an air investigator and member of Greece's commercial pilots union.

"There is very limited space over the Aegean sea and its air corridors are very crowded. It is only a matter of time before a warplane crashes into a commercial plane. It's a simple mathematical equation."

Near misses

Another senior pilot for Olympic Airways said: "We obey the rules of the sky, but the fighter pilots do not."

Last month, the crew of an Olympic Airlines jet flying from Athens to Duesseldorf, was forced to make a steep climb to avoid colliding with two Greek fighters over the island of Limnos.

Turkish jet crosses in front of Greek plane
For decades mock dog-fights have taken place over the Aegean

Our correspondent says disaster almost befell another Olympic plane four years ago, when a Turkish fighter suddenly flew right in front of its nose.

The collision on Tuesday occurred at about 27,000 ft (8,000 m), some 21 miles (34 km) southeast of Karpathos.

Turkey insists Greek airspace extends only 10km (6 miles) offshore, not 16km (10 miles) as Greece maintains.

Under the International Law of the Sea, Greece is entitled to extend its territorial limits to 12 miles, but Turkey, a non-signatory, has warned that such a move would trigger war.

The foreign ministries of both countries have sought to calm tensions in the wake of the crash - a move praised by national media in both countries, and Mr Papadimitriou.

"We approve of our government's diplomatic efforts because we want the skies over the Aegean to be safe," he said.

How will the crash affect Greek-Turkish relations? Send us your comments using the link below.

See the rescued Turkish pilot arrive at hospital

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