Pristina: NATO said Friday it has reopened the upper airspace over Kosovo for civilian traffic 15 years after the war, enabling commercial flights to take more direct routes across the Balkans.
"The reopening of the airspace will lead to shorter flight routes in the region, generating significant cost savings for airspace users and environmental benefits," said a statement from the NATO-led peacekeeping mission in Kosovo, KFOR.
Since the end of the 1998-1999 war in Kosovo, commercial flights have been allowed to go to and from the airport in the capital Pristina, but the so-called upper airspace used at cruising altitude was closed for civilian traffic and remained under NATO control.
That often forced commercial airlines crossing the region to take circuitous routes around Kosovo.
"The reopening of the upper airspace in Kosovo is a significant example of regional cooperation and a significant step that benefits the entire Western Balkans," said NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen.
The move came after Hungary agreed to provide air traffic control for flights over Kosovo.
"Estimations indicate that around 180,000 civilian flights will be annually affected," NATO said.
However, the airspace over Kosovo "will remain under NATO authority," it added.
The 1998-1999 war between ethnic Albanian guerrillas and Serbian security forces ended after a three-month NATO air campaign that ousted Belgrade-controlled troops from Kosovo.
Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008 and has been recognised by more than 100 countries.