Air Defender 2023: Mega fighter jet maneuver thwarts German flight plans

Germany is hosting NATO’s largest air exercise to date. Hundreds of fighter jets and troop planes are expected – and massive consequences for citizens.

It is the largest air force exercise in NATO’s history – and it will throw up the flight schedules of air travelers in Germany: at least 220 fighter jets, troop aircraft and tanker aircraft from 24 countries will take part in the “Air Defender” exercise in June. Germany is the host and a main venue of the exercise. Airspace has to be closed, flights have to be postponed – and it can also get loud on the ground.

What are the Air Force and NATO planning? What consequences does this have for air traffic in Germany? An overview.

What happens in the NATO exercise “Air Defender”?

From June 12-23, 10,000 soldiers will train together with at least 220 aircraft. Fighter jets, transport and tanker aircraft from 24 nations are expected. “The ability to react and the common strength in the air should be trained and demonstrated,” says the Bundeswehr website. This describes the maneuver as “to date the largest air operations exercise in the history of NATO”.

According to a spokesman for the Air Force, preparations and agreements with the partners are still ongoing. Final figures on participating aircraft could only be given after the final planning conference at the end of April.

The German Air Force takes the lead. The plan is to exercise air warfare operations, including moving troops from the United States to Europe. About half of the participating machines therefore come from the USA, as the Bundeswehr reports. They are relocated to Europe from 35 different US states.

“Stronger together”: Three airspaces in Germany are blocked for the NATO exercise. (Source: Bundeswehr)

According to the Air Force, this is a “purely defensive exercise” that has been in preparation since 2021. In the course of the Ukraine war there were no expansions or changes in planning.

Nevertheless, the operation should now also send a clear signal to Moscow: A letter from the Luftwaffe states that the maneuver will show “that the Allied air forces can effectively defend the alliance area at any time,” as ZDF reports. The “turning point” that Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) has proclaimed for the Bundeswehr requires more military exercises to ensure security and “thereby preserving our freedom and that of our alliance partners”.

A spokesman for the Air Force told t-online on Saturday: “The current situation in Ukraine shows that we have to practice and that where we may be deployed to defend our freedom and our democracy together with our partners.”


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Which countries are participating?

In addition to the USA and Germany, Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, Finland, France, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Norway, Poland, Romania, Sweden, Slovenia, Spain, the Czech Republic, Turkey, Hungary, Estonia, Croatia and the United Kingdom took part in the exercise.

(Source: see)

What are the consequences of the exercise for air traffic in Germany?

The military have the right of way – this applies to large parts of German airspace for almost two weeks. Three airspaces in Germany will be temporarily closed for the exercise, and the zones will then be banned for civil aviation. Flight cancellations and postponements are programmed in this way. However, the full scope is not yet clear, so far simulations and discussions between the Air Force and airlines are underway.

One thing is certain: the maneuvers should take place from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., and the machines should remain on the ground at night and on weekends.

A spokeswoman for German air traffic control announced that the impact on passenger aircraft would be significant. “So our civilian customers have to reckon with longer flight paths and a likely significant delay.” According to “Focus”, Eurowings boss Jens Bischof said he was “somewhat worried” about the NATO maneuver. “We know that these two weeks in June will be a lot tighter than usual in the air.”


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