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Violent Clashes in Sudan Shut Down Khartoum Airport, Damage Aircraft
Sudan has been in a state of unrest since the military takeover of the civilian government in October 2021. The situation took a turn for the worse on April 15 when violent clashes between the Sudanese military and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) paramilitary group erupted in the capital city of Khartoum, leading to the closure of Khartoum International Airport (KRT) and the destruction of two parked aircraft.
Videos shared on social media showed burning aircraft on the apron, and travelers taking cover inside the airport’s departure hall. The RSF reportedly attempted to take over the airport, leading to an exchange of gunfire with the military. The conflict has raised concerns about the safety of air travel in Sudan.
During the ongoing military coup in Sudan, two aircraft are known to have been badly damaged or destroyed while parked at Khartoum Intl Airport (HSSS), Sudan. A Saudi Airbus A330-300 and a SkyUp Boeing 737-800. Additional aircraft may be affected as well. Ongoing story… pic.twitter.com/gqDZXJn1XH
— JACDEC (@JacdecNew) April 15, 2023
Saudia’s Airbus A330-300, which was preparing for departure to Riyadh, was one of the aircraft that suffered damage during the clashes. The airline confirmed the attack in a statement, saying that it was working with the Saudi embassy and local authorities to find out what happened as crews and passengers were escorted to the Saudi Arabian embassy in Khartoum.
Another aircraft that suffered damage was a Boeing 737-800 operated by Ukraine’s SkyUp Airlines. SkyUp, which operates 12 Boeing 737s, was established as a charter and wet lease provider after being badly hit by the war in Ukraine. The incident in Sudan is a severe blow to the Ukrainian airline.
Impact of Closure of Sudan Airspace
Sudan airspace is an important highway for quite a few key global routes and its closure has had a significant impact on major airlines operating in Africa. Turkish Airlines, for instance, may have to reroute about 15 flights to 11 African countries due to the closure. Qatar Airways may have to reroute four flights to three African countries (Nigeria, Ghana, and Côte d’Ivoire) and four flights to three South American countries.
Dubai-based Emirates Airlines has also been affected, with the closure potentially requiring the rerouting of four flights to three African countries (Nigeria, Ghana, and Côte d’Ivoire) and three flights to two South American countries (Argentina and Brazil). Meanwhile, Etihad Airways may have to reroute one flight to Nigeria, while Saudi Airlines may have to reroute two flights to Nigeria.
Egyptian airline EgyptAir announced it suspended flights to and from Khartoum for 72 hours over security concerns. Egypt’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Cairo is following the situation in Sudan with great concern amid the ongoing clashes, urging maximum restraint to “protect the lives and capabilities of the brotherly Sudanese people, and uphold the supreme interests of the homeland.”
Of all the airlines potentially affected by the closure, Ethiopian Airlines has the most significant exposure due to its geographic position. The airline may have to reroute up to 38 routes in its network. However, the impact on its African network is minimal, with only a few flights being affected.
Tensions Between Army and RSF
The sustained fighting between the Sudanese army and paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) broke out in the Sudanese capital on April 15, including central Khartoum and the neighborhood of Bahr. The RSF said they were in control of several key sites following fighting with the regular army Saturday, including the presidential palace in the capital and Khartoum airport, reported AFP.
The General Command of the Armed Forces issued a press statement on Saturday, saying that rebel forces are conspiring against the state and national sovereignty and have been engaging in acts of aggression against Sudan. In response, the armed forces have been fighting for the “right and national dignity” of the country with soldiers shedding “precious blood” in the process.
Tensions between the army and the RSF have simmered since the military take-over of the civilian government in October 2021.
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