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Edward Snowden

Edward Snowden's flight path to asylum fraught with risk

Plotting a great escape that doesn't cross airspace of US-friendly nations would be difficult

PUBLISHED : Friday, 12 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 12 July, 2013, 2:39am

Beginning a third week holed up in a Moscow airport's transit zone, Edward Snowden finds himself far enough away to evade US authorities, but also too far from any of the sympathetic nations willing to shelter him.

Aviation experts say that even if Snowden accepts the tentative offers of Venezuela, Nicaragua or Bolivia to give him shelter, it's virtually impossible to chart a flight plan to those nations that doesn't include travelling over or refueling in a US-friendly country that could demand inspection of the plane - and detain him.

Nations have full, exclusive jurisdiction over their airspace, so any plane carrying Snowden could be forced to land if it flies over the territory of a country that's willing to help American authorities capture the fugitive intelligence contractor.

"Nations control their airspace up to the heavens," said John Mulligan, an aviation law expert at DePaul University's College of Law. "Just look at the map. It's probably possible to figure out a route that wouldn't touch the airspace of the United States or any friendly nations, but it wouldn't be easy."

Snowden's best hope for breaking out of the transit area most likely hinges on whether he could sneak onto one of five weekly, direct flights to Havana. The main drawback? The path takes the plane directly over the US, which could flout a standing treaty and force a scheduled commercial flight to land.

There are planes that can make the 9,600 kilometre direct flight from Moscow to Havana or Caracas with fuel to spare. The Airbus A340 has a range of about 14,400 kilometres and a Boeing 777 can fly about 600 kilometres further before refuelling.

But a direct flight would mean passing through the airspace of European nations and possibly the US. And chartering such a craft would be incredibly expensive - US$100,000 to start, and that is if a charter service could be found willing to risk angering Washington and perhaps being accused of aiding a fugitive.

"I don't know what sort of plane they'd have available to make that flight, especially without refueling," Mulligan said. "A refueling stop would probably be problematic for Snowden."

While US President Barack Obama has said he would not be "scrambling jets" to haul in Snowden, the US government has shown that it can pressure countries that would serve as pit stops for Snowden on his way to Latin America or other potential exile destinations.

Snowden has petitioned more than 25 countries for asylum; the State Department has promised "grave difficulties" for bilateral relations with any nation that aids his escape.

Last week's diversion of Bolivian President Evo Morales' presidential jet as he attempted to return to Bolivia from Moscow was a cautionary tale for Snowden as he mulls exit strategies from transit-lounge limbo. France, Spain, Italy and Portugal denied Morales' requests to overfly their airspace on the way to a refuelling stop in the Canary Islands.

The president's plane was rerouted to Austria and spent 14 hours there, touching off a diplomatic firestorm that may have made some Latin American nations even more willing to play host to Snowden, but also showed the limitations of their ability to help him.


"I would think it's very instructive and worrisome for Snowden," said a US aviation expert, speaking on condition of anonymity. "Those states were on absolutely firm legal ground to deny [Morales] use of their airspace. Politically? That's a judgment call."

"He's in a pickle," the aviation expert said, adding that he could not recall a similar case in his long career in the industry. "He'd want to be sure that every country he's flying over or refuelling in wouldn't arrest him."

And lurking under all the problems with air travel is another logistical kink: Snowden's lack of travel documents. His US passport was revoked, so it is unclear how he would be processed out of Moscow.

In other asylum cases - those not involving fugitives accused of revealing state secrets - refugees have travelled on specially issued United Nations passports, or other temporary country-issued documents.


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hard times !
it is known that
Snowden might have begun
his 'free tour' on a chartered plane
sponsored by those who sympahize
with his plight
he was also issued a 'World Citizen Passport'
after his American Passport
revoked earlier on
The newly-issued passport is
recognized by Venezuela and Ecuador
and a few other nations as well
The Wordl Civil Aviation organisation also
recognizes that Passport
Snowden's flight route has
to be a top secret
so as to guarantee
his strict safety
it is also learnt that
his not yet disclosed
documents might contain
the cybersurveillance on
Chinese leaders and the
measures in doing
more top-secerts are expected
to be revealed later on
when he can arrive in
Venezuela safe
and sound.
wish him good luck
and a nice flight
our leaker-hero
Edward Joseph
Snowden !
hard times !
as we all know,where there is a will, there is a way.This also applies to our whistle-blower,Snowden.He can seek to fly directly to Helsinki,Finland which does not need to fly over any other nation's airspace.Or to any neighbouring countries of Russia provided that they dare to stand up against Uncle Sam like Venezuela ! Besides,pressuring Snowden so much might trigger a backfire-----------making him expose more top secrets of the NSA of America in any ways or means.Just wait and see.
hard times !
According to an expert on international civil avaition,there is a Chicago Treaty which principle states that civil airliners enjoy the rights to fly past other nations' airspace or landing to be refuelled without a prior permission from the nations concerned.Yet government planes (such as the one carried the president of Bolivia) have to gain permission to fly past other nations' airspace.Private chartered planes are also easier to be intercepted and the laws governing these planes flying into other nations' airspace are more complicated too.So the safest route for our whistle-blower to fly to Venezuela is still through a normal commercial airliner via Cuba . Our dear Snowden,please take note of these factors.
hard times !
It is learnt that this Friday afternoon (Moscow time), our whistle-blower,Mr.Snowden is meeting representatives from the Amnesty International and Hman Rights Watch plus a famous Russian human rights lawyer to discuss his outlet maybe----a safe haven where he can approach from Moscow by air without interceptions from Uncle Sam and his allies( the European countries which block his flight route to Venezuela).Wish this leaker-hero every good luck and arrive in his destination safe and sound !


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