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North Korean balloons, GPS interference increase security dangers for South’s airways

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This picture offered by South Korea Defence Ministry, reveals balloons with trash presumably despatched by North Korea, in South Chungcheong Province, South Korea. File
| Photo Credit: AP

North Korea’s trash balloon marketing campaign, missile launches and the emergence of GPS “spoofing” have elevated dangers in South Korean airspace, aviation consultants say, complicating airline operations as tensions rise between the rival nations.

In late May, North Korea started floating hundreds of balloons with luggage of trash, together with human excrement, suspended below them into South Korea, in what analysts say is a type of psychological warfare.

Hundreds of balloons landed within the South throughout seven waves between May 29 and June 27, together with one on a runway at Incheon airport, forcing a three-hour suspension of takeoffs and landings at its greatest worldwide gateway.

When the balloons first appeared, aviation navigation interference from North Korea additionally spiked, together with what seems to be the primary bout of so-called “spoofing” affecting business plane within the South.

“Airspace safety is gradually deteriorating,” OPSGROUP, a membership-based organisation that shares flight danger data,” mentioned in a June bulletin. “There are no official airspace warnings for South Korea, but the risk situation seems to be getting worse.”

South Korea’s Transport Ministry mentioned its army, air site visitors management authorities and airways keep a 24-hour surveillance and communication system.

“The South Korean military detects these balloons using surveillance assets… day and night,” a army spokesperson mentioned, with out giving additional particulars.

North Korea, which additionally launched trash balloons in 2016, says they had been retaliation for propaganda campaigns by North Korean defectors and activists within the South who ship objects by way of balloon.

Balloons have made flying within the space “quite complicated”

The balloon flights have a number of occasions shut down operations at Incheon, the world’s fifth-busiest worldwide airport and an vital cargo hub, about 40 km (25 miles) from North Korea.

“The balloons have made flying in the area quite complicated”, mentioned Yun Chan Hwang, basic supervisor of community operations for Korean Air Lines, which has tailored procedures to take care of the brand new hazard.

“If northerly winds are expected, the airline adds fuel to flight plans so aircraft can stay aloft longer or divert to alternative airports,” Mr. Yun mentioned.

Disruption brought on by the balloon marketing campaign is being exacerbated by elevated indicators of interference to the Global Positioning System (GPS), a community of satellites and receivers used for navigation.

Militaries and different actors can broadcast indicators that trick a GPS system into considering it’s someplace it’s not.

“This could lead pilots to drift off course, with the risk of straying into North Korean airspace,” mentioned Kari Bingen, the aerospace safety venture director on the Washington-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies.

“Between May 29 and June 2 about 500 planes and hundreds of ships experienced GPS problems,” South Korea’s authorities mentioned. It complained to U.N. aviation physique ICAO, which warned North Korea to cease.

GPS spoofing seems new

“GPS interruptions in the South from North Korea have occurred for more than a decade, but spoofing appears new,” mentioned SkAI, a Swiss firm that runs a reside disruption map.

“SkAI detected spoofing in South Korean airspace between May 29 and June 2 that affected dozens of planes,” co-founder Benoit Figuet mentioned. “Some of the impacted airplanes were flying quite low in altitude. We even have seen airplanes being spoofed while being on the ground,” Benoit mentioned.

Notifications to pilots issued by South Korea in May and June warned planes flying round Incheon and Seoul to “exercise extreme caution when using GPS”.

“No major aviation accident has been linked to GPS spoofing globally, but a business jet flying from Europe to Dubai nearly entered Iranian airspace without clearance in September 2023,” OPSGROUP mentioned.

North Korea mentioned final yr it could shoot down something it deemed a reconnaissance flight coming into its airspace.

Most airways keep away from North Korean airspace. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration bans overflights of North Korea for causes together with unannounced ballistic missile exams, air defence capabilities and potential digital warfare.

“South Korea’s airspace is at constant risk of instability caused by some kind of political crisis,” OPSGROUP mentioned. “Things have potential to change quickly, and without warning.”

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