Air chiefs to discuss war zone risk

Air chiefs to discuss war zone risk

Flowers are laid outside the Dutch Embassy in London to remember the passengers who were killed on Malaysia Airlines flight MH17

Toys and flowers placed on charred fuselage at the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in eastern Ukraine (AP)

First published in National News © by

The risk to passenger planes flying over war zones following the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 will be discussed at a special meeting of world aviation chiefs tomorrow.

The need for clarification on safe routes was emphasised by events today which showed that some airlines were flying over war-torn areas that other carriers were avoiding.

Dubai-based Emirates, initially, announced it would not be flying over Iraq but then later an Emirates flight from Beirut was tracked passing over Iraq but having taken the "long way" round due to a desire to not fly over Syria.

A spokeswoman for Emirates said the airline was updating its position on routes and that a new statement would be made later today.

British Airways, one of a number of carriers who use Iraq airspace, is carrying on flying over the Middle East country, while plane-tracking websites showed other airlines also passing over Iraq.

BA said today: "Our flight plans vary depending on a variety of factors, but our highest and first priority is always the safety of our crew and customers.

"We would never fly in airspace unless we were satisfied that it was safe to do so."

Described as a "high-level" event, tomorrow's meeting is at the Montreal headquarters of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).

ICAO council president Dr Olumuyiwa Benard Aliu and the organisation's secretary general Raymond Benjamin are due to attend as is Tony Tyler, the International Air Transport Association (Iata) chief executive.

Also at Montreal will be representatives of the Airports Council International and the Civil Air Navigation Services Organisation

ICAO said: " This meeting will discuss the appropriate actions to be pursued in order to more effectively mitigate potential risks to civil aviation arising from conflict zones."

Last week some US airlines and some European ones, including easyJet, imposed a temporary suspension of flights to Israel after a rocket landed close to Ben Gurion Airport in Israel.

After the Malaysia Airlines tragedy, Mr Tyler said it was vital that governments took the lead in reviewing how airspace risk assessments were made.

At the weekend, Malaysia Airlines commercial director Hugh Dunleavy said: " For too long, airlines have been shouldering the responsibility for making decisions about what constitutes a safe flight path, over areas in political turmoil around the world.

"We are not intelligence agencies but airlines, charged with carrying passengers in comfort between destinations."

He went on: " Against the backdrop of increasingly volatile political situations around the world, such as Ukraine and Gaza, we as an industry must act now to create a system of approval that guarantees safe air passage for all commercial airlines.

"As things stand, airlines are ultimately responsible for making a decision on whether or not to take a particular flight path. When planning routes for our aircraft, Malaysia Airlines uses the best possible intelligence from the relevant third-party authorities to determine their safety and suitability. We consult with relevant governments, Iata, ICAO and (air navigation service provider) Eurocontrol."

Mr Dunleavy added: " This tragedy has taught us that, despite following the guidelines and advice set out by the governing bodies, the skies above certain territories are simply not safe."

The Dutch Safety Board (DSB) , which is in overall charge of the investigation into the MH17 crash, said its probe would include "a n investigation into the decision-making process regarding flight paths and the risk assessment that was conducted when choosing to fly over eastern Ukraine".

It went on: "The board will not only look at past events but will also review the system in general in order to learn valuable lessons for the future."

The DSB said it was also investigating "why the full (passenger) list was not available for flight MH17 immediately" and would also look at the organisation of and compilation of passenger lists in general "in order to provide lessons for the future".

An Emirates spokeswoman said: "We are taking precautionary measures and are currently working on alternative routing plans for flights using Iraqi airspace.

"We are closely monitoring the situation along with international agencies, and will never compromise the safety of our customers and crew."

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