Three problem airports

Some of you (like Paul Tomblin, who manages navaid.com) have probably already run into this problem, but it turns out that there are at least three airports in the world that cannot safely be assigned to any country, at least not without causing a diplomatic incident. This is a problem for database architects as well as ambassadors, because the normal way to organize airports in a database is to sort them by country (and to assume that every airport has one).

Problem airport #1: Woody Island

Woody Island is one of the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea. The islands and reefs are surrounded by major fisheries and possible oil and gas reserves, and are claimed by China, Taiwan, and Vietnam. Most recently, China seized control of the islands from South Vietnam near the end of the Vietnam War, but the other countries have not given up their claim, and China’s possession has not received international recognition.

China operates an airport (VH84) on Woody Island as part of its emergency rescue centre on the island.

Problem airport #2: Swallow Reef

Swallow Reef is part of the Spratley Islands, also in the South China Sea. Like the Paracel Islands, the Spratly Islands are surrounded by major fisheries and potential oil and gas reserves. In addition to China, Taiwan, and Vietnam, each of which claims the entire chain, Malaysia and the Philippines claim some of the islands, and Brunei has established a fishing zone which includes one of the reefs. None of these claims has received international recognition, and all of the countries (except Brunei) maintain small military forces on various islands.

Malaysia happens to occupy Swallow Reef, and it maintains both a naval base and a tourist resort there, with an airport (RP10) to serve them.

Problem airport #3: Jerusalem

Saving the most controversial for last, Jerusalem International Airport, aka Atarot Airport — which has been non-operational and controlled by the Israeli Defence Force since 2001 — is in the West Bank occupied territory near Ramallah. It actually has two ICAO codes: OJJR (OJ is the prefix for Jordan, which formerly owned the West Bank), and LLJR (LL is the prefix for Israel, which currently controls the West Bank).

Our side of the pond(s)

We’ve done a better job dealing with our problem airports in North America. Piney Pinecreek Border Airport (48Y) in Piney, Manitoba, Avey State Field (69S) in Laurier, Washington, and International Peace Garden Airport (S28) in Dunseith, North Dakota all have runways that actually cross or at least touch the Canada/U.S. border (Dunseith’s runway actually ends at a highway border crossing, so there are both U.S. and Canadian customs booths onsite). They have U.S. identifiers, but we list them in the Canada Flight Supplement as well. No need to refight the War of 1812.

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About David Megginson

Scholar, tech guy, Canuck, open-source/data/information zealot, urban pedestrian, language geek, tea drinker, pater familias, red tory, amateur musician, private pilot.
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4 Responses to Three problem airports

  1. Paul Tomblin says:

    DAFIF gives separate country codes to Paracel Islands (PF, used only for VH84), Spratley Islands (PG, used onlhy for RP10). It only lists OJJR for Jerusalem, but gives it a country code of WE meaning West Bank, which is also used for an NDB and two reporting points.

  2. david says:

    Thanks, Paul. DAFIF uses FIPS codes instead of ISO 3166-1 alpha2. ISO 3166 does have “PS” for the Palestinian Occupied Territories, and I have found that there is a convention of using the user-assigned code “ZZ” for “not assigned to a country” and “XS” for “international waters”. Maybe one of those would be useful. The problem is that people in Israel might not agree that the Jerusalem airport belongs to the Palestinian territories (note the two separate airport codes), and the various countries fighting over the oil reserves in the Paracel and Spratly Islands most definitely won’t agree that the islands lie in international waters. For now, I’m using “ZZ” for all three.

  3. Paul Tomblin says:

    I like the FIPS code idea better – you don’t have to care who claims the Spratly Islands if you just call the Spratly Islands their own country until it’s sorted out. Similarly they give a separate code to Taiwan without worrying if it’s a separate country or a renegade province of the PRC.

  4. Tony Hunt says:

    As you mentioned, several of the Canada – US road border crossings in BC, Alberta, Sask and Manitoba are equipped with an airstrip. They are registered strips, listed in both the CFS and AOPA Airport Guides and they are marked on the VFR Charts. You can land at most of them to clear into the US or back into Canada. The road border crossing is only metres away, so the agent will walk over.

    These are some of the port-of-entry strips in the AOPA Airport Directory. Several are also listed in the CFS by their Canadian identifier while the US uses a different identifier:

    CEQ4 Del Bonita is also known as H28 Whetstone Intl Montana
    CEP4 Coutts Alta is also known as 7S8 Sweetgrass/Ross Intl Montana
    CKK3 Coronach/Scobey Border Station Sask. is also known as 8U3 Scobey Montana
    S28 Dunseith Intl Peace Garden Manitoba/N. Dakota – runway in N. Dakota, some of the taxiway & parking is in Canada
    48Y Piney/Pinecreek Manitoba/Minnesota crosses perpendicular to the border (this one is paved and has self-serve fuel, I used it once with my BARON)

    When I called the Sweetgrass Montana customs station in July 06, I asked if I could use the strip there, and the US Agent said I’d be welcome to, since it saves him the 2-hour drive into Great Falls Montana. He copied my particulars and then told me that as long as they had one hour notice of my arrival to “run me through the database”, I could arrive anytime before sunset.

    Advantages:
    GRASS STRIP! (most of them)
    ETA less critical
    Friendlier service (not guaranteed)

    Disadvantages:
    Grass strip? Can be wet/lumpy/soft and relatively short
    Difficult to spot sometimes – not well marked, just cones in a narrow field running parallel to the border (see my photos)
    No lighting (land/depart before sunset)

    Always check the book and confirm by phone – one or two hours notice still required, no matter what!

    I wrote some notes and included photos about my experience at Coutts Alberta / Sweetgrass Montana in July 06. See the RFC website message forums:
    http://www.rfc.ca/ Rockcliffe Flying Club Forum aéroclub Rockcliffe » General Discussions » 2006 Western Trip

    Good Blog!

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