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Russian Fighters Shadowed PM's Plane

Finland's aviation authorities plan to investigate why two Russian fighter aircraft followed a Finnair airliner in Russian airspace en route to South Korea on Wednesday. Aboard the plane at the time was Finland's Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen. The Finnish Civil Aviation Authority considers it unacceptable that military aircraft use civilian passenger planes as practice targets in approach exercises. According to the Authority's Director General Kim Salonen, Finnish officials will undertake an investigation into what the Russian fighters were doing when they shadowed the Finnair plane carrying Prime Minister Vanhanen. According to newspaper reports, two Russian air force Suhoi 27 fighters followed the Finnair Airbus A340 airliner at close range without announcing their presence as is normal practice in such cases. As of Saturday, the Finnish Civil Aviation Authority had not received a report on the incident from Finnair. The two fighters began pursuit of the airliner, which was carrying just fewer than 200 passengers, at a distance of only a few hundred meters over Russian Carelia. The incident was first reported by the newspaper Savon Sanomat. Under international aviation regulations, pilots are to be informed if they are being approached by fighter planes. Interviewed by the newspaper Keskisuomalainen, the chief of Helsinki-Vantaa International Airport Juha-Pekka Pystynen, who was aboard the flight, said the Finnair crew received no notice that the plane was being shadowed. The commander of the Finnish air force, Lt.General Heikki Lyytinen described the incident as unusual. He added that airliners in Finnish airspace are always advised if they are approached by fighters. Finnair CEO Jukka Hienonen said Saturday that for the time being, no reaction has been made by his company and that he considers it mainly a political affair. Finnair began direct flights to South Korea on Monday. YLE

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