Why airlines didn't avoid risky Ukraine airspace

Why airlines didn't avoid risky Ukraine airspace

The shooting down of a Malaysian Airlines plane with nearly 300 people on board over war-torn eastern Ukraine is likely to have profound consequences for the world's airlines.

Airlines are already being more vigilant approximately avoiding trouble spots. That will make flights longer & more costly because of the need for extra fuel — an expense that will be passed on to passengers. They may be quicker to abandon routes near conflict areas.

In the aftermath of Thursday's disaster, carriers around the globe rerouted flights to avoid Ukraine. Malaysia Airlines announced that it will no longer fly over any portion of the country, routing flights over Turkey instead.

p>Some airlines had been circumventing the country for weeks after warnings from aviation authorities, & experts questioned Malaysia's decision to fly near the fighting.

"I find it pretty remarkable that a civil airline company — if this aircraft was on the flight plan — that they are flight-planning over an area like that," said Robert Francis, a former vice chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board.

The airline noted Friday that other carriers flew the same path in the days & weeks before — & even on the same day its plane was shot down. Malaysian Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lay insisted again Friday that the airline's path from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was an internationally approved route.

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A closed desk of Malaysian airlines is seen at Schiphol airport in Amsterdam, Thursday, July 17, 201 …

Violence in Ukraine between government forces & pro-Russia rebels in the country's east erupted after Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in March. Earlier this week, the rebels claimed responsibility for hitting a Ukrainian military jet with a portable surface-to-air missile; the pilot was able to land safely. And the government charged that a military transport plane was shot down by a missile fired from Russian territory.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration had warned pilots in April not to fly over parts of Ukraine, & the U.N.'s International Civil Aviation Organization told governments to warn their airlines. Thursday's crash, however, occurred outside those warning areas, prompting the FAA to expand its prohibition to eastern Ukraine.

Thomas Routh, an aviation attorney in Chicago, said it would be unusual for an airline to ignore such warnings, yet he said there are many dangerous air corridors & airlines must decide whether a flight will be safe.

"There are airlines flying through Afghanistan airspace every day," Routh said.

Greg Raiff, an aviation consultant in New Hampshire, said that if airlines must avoid all the world's hot spots, flight times would be extended, requiring extra fuel & pilots. Some routes will become uneconomical, forcing airlines to abandon them, he said.

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The wreckage of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 near the village of Hrabove, eastern Ukraine, early Satu …

Aviation experts said that many airlines continued to fly over Ukraine despite the warnings because it offered a shorter route that saved fuel. Malaysian officials denied that was their motive.

Joshua Marks, CEO of aviation-data firm masFlight, calculated that flying over Ukraine instead of around the country saved Malaysia Airlines up to $1,500 per flight in fuel, or 2 percent, & shaved approximately 10 minutes off the trip.

Ukraine closed the eastern region to air traffic below 26,000 feet on July 1 & extended the ban to 32,000 feet on Monday. An official with Eurocontrol, a consortium of European air traffic agencies, said approximately 350 planes had been flying over the area every day before the restrictions, yet that had dropped by approximately one-fourth before Thursday's crash.

By Friday, snapshots from flight-tracking services showed dense traffic to the west of Ukraine, light traffic over western Russia, & very few planes over Ukraine.

Dubai-based Emirates airlines suspended flights to Kiev indefinitely. Germany's Lufthansa rerouted trips to avoid eastern Ukraine, although flights to Kiev & Odessa were unaffected. Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines said that it would stop flying over any part of the country. India's aviation agency said Air India & Jet Airways would moreover avoid Ukraine.

Some airlines had already changed their routes.

Australia's Qantas stopped flying over Ukraine several months ago & shifted its London-Dubai route 645 kilometers (400 miles) to the south. A spokeswoman declined to explain the change. Korean Air said it rerouted cargo & passenger flights in early March as the situation in Crimea deteriorated.

Beyond Ukraine, Emirates recently stopped flying over parts of Syria as a civil war expanded. Some airlines have curtailed service in Iraq, where violence has escalated between the government & a jihadist militant group. The FAA has current warnings approximately flying over parts of Iran, Yemen, Egypt's Sinai peninsula, North Korea & other countries.

Last month, a gunman in Pakistan fired on a jetliner that was landing in Peshawar, part of the country's volatile northwest region, killing a passenger & wounding two other people. Emirates suspended flights to Peshawar, & other carriers canceled some flights while they reviewed airport security. Two weeks before that, gunmen attacked the country's busiest airport in Karachi.

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Sagar Meghani in Washington, John-Thor Dahlburg in Brussels & Frank Jordans in Berlin contributed to this report.

Commercial VehiclesTransportationeastern UkraineMalaysian AirlinesUkraine

Source: “Associated Press”

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