Aeroflot Soviet Airlines, apparently taking advantage of the U. S. air traffic control system, deliberately flew over some strategically "sensitive areas" in southern New England earlier this month in violation of American-Soviet air agreements, the government said yesterday.
The violations came to light when the Civil Aeronautics Board, acting at the request of the State Department, proposed to suspend for a week Aeroflot's twice-weekly round-trip flights to the United States in retaliation. The CAB said it would rule on the request by Wednesday.
Aeroflot's assigned routes generally keep its planes over the Atlantic between southern Maine and New York City, but on Nov. 8 the Soviet airline got permission from the Federal Aviation Administration to send two flights mostly over land--across New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut.
One source said the planes could have flown over or close to a number of military installations, including Strategic Air Command bases, the Trident submarine shipyards in Connecticut and defense and electronic industries around the Boston area. He also said that it was possible from a plane to record electronic transmission signals from radar stations in a technology intelligence mission.
In a letter to the CAB, Lawrence Eagleburger, assistant secretary of State for European affairs, said the FAA's approval was "an administrative failure," possibly related to the changes in personnel since the controllers' strike and their subsequent firings. He called Aeroflot's deviation from its prescribed routes "clearly deliberate" and said the action violated U. S. law and the requirements of the civil air transport agreement between the United States and the Soviet Union..
"The filing of the flight plan and the failure of inexperienced U.S. air traffic control personnel to correct intentional deviations from the operations specifications do not excuse the Soviets' behavior," Eagleburger wrote the CAB.
The State Department asked that Aeroflot's authority to land flights in the United States be suspended Nov. 21 through Nov. 28.
According to United Press International, a spokesman for the Soviet Embassy said "there were no intention of overflights made by our Aeroflot planes. The allegations that the deviations were deliberate--we think they are factually innacurate.
"The point is that our planes followed the rules suggested to us by the Federal Aviation Administration. But there seems to be a certain misunderstanding about the routes approved by the FAA and which are approved by the State Department," he said.
The spokesman said the embassy will be "in contact with the State Department. We hope a mutually satisfactory solution can be found."