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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Army Drills Put Flights at Risk

BRUSSELS -- Air operations carried out by a Russian naval task force sailing from the North Atlantic to the Mediterranean represent a potential threat to the safety of civilian flights in the area, an international pilots' group warned.

The squadron consisting of the carrier Admiral Kuznetsov and two Udaloy-class destroyers represents the country's most ambitious naval deployment since the 1991 Soviet collapse. During its three-month tour it is due to be joined in the Mediterranean by units of the Black Sea Fleet.

When it sailed across the North Sea last week, the Kuznetsov conducted air operations close to Norway's Gullfaks offshore oil field "without communication with any air-traffic or other agency," the International Federation of Air Line Pilots' Associations said Friday in a statement to its members.

It warned civilian pilots that similar operations below 3,000 meters could occur anywhere along the fleet's route "without prior notification." They could also result in communications loss due to interference from military transmissions, the group said.

A spokesman for the Foreign Ministry in Oslo said Norway had notified Moscow about the potential threat to civilian helicopters serving the offshore oil platforms. Russia replied that it would curtail the flights -- all of which were over international waters -- and the task force moved away from the oil fields, said the spokesman, Bjorn Svenungsen.

In Moscow, a Navy spokesman said he had no immediate comment about the pilots group's warning.

The 60,000-ton Kuznetsov can embark 12 Su-33 fighters and five Su-25 attack jets, along with a large number of anti-submarine helicopters. The squadron was believed to now be in the Bay of Biscay.

Over the past months, Russia's land-based Tu-95 and Tu-160 strategic bombers also have resumed regular long-range patrols over international waters in the Atlantic, Arctic and Pacific oceans -- a move President Vladimir Putin has described as necessary to protect the country's security.