The Somali Civil Aviation Authority (SCAA) has denied entry to a DHC-8-Q400 operated by Ethiopian Airlines (ET, Addis Ababa International) on a charter flight from Addis Ababa International to Hargeisa, capital of de facto independent Somaliland. The regulator said the flight, carrying unidentified "Ethiopian VIP" passengers, had not obtained the necessary permit to enter Somali airspace.

Flight ET8372 on January 17 was operated by ET-AUZ (msn 4574) which took off from Addis Ababa, heading east towards Somaliland, but turned around near Jijiga in northeastern Ethiopia and returned to the federal capital, according to Flightradar24 ADS-B data.

Ethiopian Airlines confirmed that the aircraft returned to Addis Ababa "because there were doubts regarding the required permissions from Somalia, even after it had already commenced its journey".

The airline's scheduled flights to both Hargeisa and Mogadishu continue unabated.

The Somali National News Agency reported that a B737-400(F) operated by AlphaSky, P4-JAG (msn 25102), was also denied entry to Somali airspace en route from Sharjah to Hargeisa, allegedly for failing to disclose its cargo. However, the Somaliland Airports and Aviation Authority denied that such an event occurred. Flightradar24 ADS-B data shows the aircraft flew from Sharjah via Dubai World Central to Port Sudan International on January 17-18, but the flight to Sudan does not appear to have been a diversion from Hargeisa. The aircraft last visited the Somaliland capital on January 14.

The development comes amid elevated tension between Ethiopia and Somalia in the wake of Addis Ababa's breakthrough diplomatic agreement with Somaliland on January 1. In return for a 50-year lease of a 20-kilometre stretch of Somaliland's coast, with access to military and civilian ports, Ethiopia agreed to "bolster political and diplomatic relations" with the de facto state - a move Somaliland presented as its first international recognition. The de facto state's government is also set to get an undisclosed stake in Ethiopian Airlines. Somalia branded the agreement a violation of its sovereignty.

Somaliland, a former British colony which merged with what was Italian Somalia after just five days of independence in 1960, has been de facto independent of Mogadishu and relatively politically stable since the early 1990s. Nonetheless, Somalia retains formal control over Somaliland's airspace. Flights between Addis and Hargeisa do not cross the airspace of Somalia proper.