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article imageAmerica refuses airspace to Air France jet citing No-Fly rules

By Michael Cosgrove     Apr 27, 2009 in Travel
Details are emerging of a commercial flight carrying controversial journalist Hernando Calvo Ospina being refused permission to overfly the United States because he is on America’s No-Fly personality blacklist.
It appears that Air France was in no hurry to go to the press with this almost unprecedented incident, which happened a few days ago. It was finally brought to the press’s attention by an article in the French news site Rue 89 (Road 89) following declarations made to it by Frenchman Maxime Vivas, a friend of the journalist.
Air France flight 438 Paris-Mexico City was instructed to change course in mid-flight whilst only five hours from its destination in order that it avoid US territory. The decision to divert the plane was taken by the American Transport Security Administration (TSA) which is responsible for enforcing No-Fly rules. These rules were implemented after 9/11 in an effort to keep unwanted, notably terrorist-linked, personalities out of the USA.
The reason given was the presence on board of Ospina, a Monde Diplomatique correspondent. He has written many articles criticising the Columbian Government of President Alvaro Uribe and United States’ involvement in Latin American affairs. He has also done interviews with leading Farc personalities. These activities got him onto the No-Fly list. He was on his way to Nicaragua on an assignment.
This diversion meant a four hour delay in arrival time and a stopover in Martinique for extra fuel. It was during the stopover that the 777’s co-pilot announced the news to Ospina, who apparently didn’t even know he was on the list.
Air France finally agreed to discuss the issue and expressed its surprise at the decision as well as its intention to seek damages for “Supplementary costs. Kerosene, airport landing taxes, the inconvenience to passengers and ticket refund and other costs for those who missed onward flights.”
Concerning the decision itself, Air France officials expressed their surprise : “The TSA usually notifies us of No-Fly passengers before take-off. Moreover the flight was not scheduled to land in the United States. We would like to know more about what led the Americans to divert the plane.”
Once in Mexico, Ospina was interrogated by Mexican authorities before being allowed to leave for Nicaragua, from where he expressed his surprise at the silence of the press. Monde Diplomatique Executive Editor Maurice Lemoine subsequently qualified the incident as “Mind-boggling.”
There are thousands of people on the highly controversial No-Fly list. Its criteria for selecting passengers are mostly unknown. An Air France spokesman explained the system : “Passenger lists on many flights has been completely automated since February of this year. Passenger lists are automatically sent to the TSA, which theoretically means that Companies are informed of TSA intervention before take-off.”
More about France, America, No-fly, Terrorism, Air france
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