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Germany, US allay civilian air traffic disruption fears ahead of massive drill


BERLIN (Reuters) – The largest air deployment exercise in NATO’s history, involving 25 nations and 250 aircraft in June, will only cause minor disruptions to civilian air traffic in Europe, Germany and the U.S. said on Wednesday.

“We anticipate minimal interruptions in the flow of civilian airlines,” Michael Loh, director of the U.S. Air National Guard, said in a news conference in Berlin ahead of the German-led Air Defender 2023 drills from June 12-23.

German Air chief Ingo Gerhartz said most of the around 2,000 flights would be undertaken over the North and the Baltic Seas, and that all efforts had been taken to reduce disruptions to civilian air traffic.

He said he hoped to see no cancellations of flights and for any delays to be limited to minutes only.

“If we want to demonstrate that we are ready to defend this country and this alliance, we have to accept this,” Gerhartz noted. “You don’t get security for free.”

Almost 10,000 service members are set to take part in the exercise that will, among other drills, train how to swiftly move air reinforcements to Germany in case of a conflict with Russia.

Due to its location at the centre of Europe, Germany would provide a major logistics hub and staging area for NATO in such a scenario. Even during peace time, it hosts more than 35,000 U.S. troops.

The drills will focus on air bases in Germany, but also involve locations in the Netherlands and the Czech Republic. The U.S. will send some 100 aircraft to Europe, with its reserve Air National Guard providing most of them.

Gerhartz said he did not expect any increased Russian military activity in response to the drills as they were designed to be defensive.

“We are demonstrating that NATO’s territory is a red line and that we are prepared to defend each centimetre of this territory – but we won’t undertake any flights towards Kaliningrad,” he said.

(Reporting by Sabine Siebold; Editing by Miranda Murray and Sriraj Kalluvila)

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