Aeroflot A330 Forced To Descend To Avoid Spy Plane

Authorities in Moscow have claimed that a US aircraft operating on behalf of NATO forced a civilian flight to alter its course in order to avoid a collision. The CL600 reconnaissance aircraft reportedly descended towards the planned route for an Aeroflot flight, causing the pilots to take evasive actions, which included dropping almost 5,000 feet of altitude.

Aeroflot A330
An Aeroflot A330 was reportedly forced to descend from its planned path to avoid a NATO aircraft. Photo: Tom Boon | Simple Flying

Aeroflot forced to deviate

An Aeroflot flight was reportedly forced to deviate from its path on Friday, due to concerns over a NATO aircraft entering its airspace. The A330-300 was flying from Tel Aviv to Moscow when the incident occurred. There were 142 people onboard, according to Russia’s Federal Air Transport Agency Rosaviatsia.

Flight SU510 is a three times a week service between Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport and Moscow Sheremetyevo. Friday’s flight pushed back at 07:25, around 15 minutes later than its scheduled time, and proceeded on its three hour and 30-minute journey. Operating the service was an Aeroflot A330-300, registered VQ-BMY.

Just under two hours into the flight, the aircraft had passed over Turkey and was proceeding to cross the Black Sea. Tracking data from shows that, as it neared the mid-point of the Black Sea crossing, the aircraft rapidly descended from its cruise position at 35,000 feet (11,000 m) down to just below 31,000 feet (9,500 m) altitude.

The shift was only temporary, and around 15 minutes after it began descending, the A330 was back at its normal cruise position. Reportedly, the aircraft had come within 65 feet (20 m) of a US-operated NATO plane, a CL600 ARTEMIS (Airborne Reconnaissance and Targeting Multi-Mission Intelligence System).

NATO plane descended rapidly

Russia’s state aviation authority said on Saturday that the cause of this flight deviation was the presence of a US spy plane in the vicinity of the civilian flight. A spokesperson told Russian outlet RIA that,

“On the morning of December 3 at 09:53, over the open waters of the Black Sea near the area of ​​responsibility of the Russian air traffic services, the NATO CL600 reconnaissance aircraft flew with an intensive descent from an altitude of 11,000 to an altitude of 9,200 meters, crossing the air traffic service route established for civil aircraft.”

The agency further said that the military aircraft did not respond to repeated requests from air traffic control. It added that another aircraft, a Maltese registered CL650 heading from Sochi to Skopje, also had to divert from its planned course as a result of the presence of the CL600.

US Army CL600 Artemis
The ARTEMIS is the US Army’s first-ever Manned Aerial ISR (intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance) jet. Photo: US Army

Further reports suggest that the pilots could see the military jet from the cockpit of the A330. Russia claims that, at one point, the two aircraft had less than 20 meters (65 feet) of vertical separation between them.

Maria Zakharova, a Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson, took to social media to criticize the incident, stating that,

“The actions of the US Air Force created a threat to civil aviation. And if a disaster has been prevented in the airspace above the open waters of the Black Sea, it does not mean that the United States and NATO can continue to risk the lives of people with impunity.

“I will repeat what Russian experts have already said: the increased intensity of NATO flights at the borders of the Russian Federation, including over the Black Sea, creates the risks of dangerous incidents related to civil air of the vessels.”

The alleged near-miss comes as tensions between Russia and the West rise over accusations that Moscow is preparing to invade Ukraine.