Starting today, Monday, Germany will host NATO’s largest air exercise to date. Hundreds of fighter jets and troop planes take part – with massive consequences for citizens.
It is the largest air force exercise in NATO’s history – and it will really upset the flight schedule of air travelers in Germany: At least 220 fighter jets, troop aircraft and tanker aircraft from 25 countries will take part in the “Air Defender” exercise from Monday. 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 during the “Air Defender” maneuver?
From June 12-23, 10,000 soldiers will train together with 250 aircraft. Fighter jets, transport and tanker aircraft from 25 nations are expected – 190 of them combat aircraft. “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”.
NATO partners are taking part in the exercise, but it is being conducted under German leadership. 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 were relocated to Europe from 35 different US states.
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 in April: “The current situation in Ukraine shows that we need to practice, where we may be deployed, to defend our freedom and our democracy together with our partners.”
Which countries are participating?
In addition to the USA and Germany, Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, Finland, France, Italy, Japan, Croatia, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Norway, Poland, Romania, Sweden, Slovenia, Spain, the Czech Republic and Turkey are taking part according to the Air Force as of Saturday , Hungary, Estonia, Croatia and the United Kingdom took part in the exercise.
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.”