Plug holes in sharing of data on air risks

Plug holes in sharing of data on air risks
Two aircraft carrying the remains of some of the 298 passengers who died on Flight MH17 touched down at an airport in the Dutch city of Eindhoven on Wednesday, as next-of-kin and Dutch and foreign officials looked on.

The MH17 tragedy has shown the need for a better and more accurate system that can warn airlines of the dangers in the skies.

SINGAPORE Airlines and other carriers that used to fly over Ukraine before a Malaysia Airlines jet was blown out of the skies a week ago have come under fire, accused of knowingly putting passengers at risk.

But aviation experts say it is unfair to blame just the carriers when, in fact, it is the entire global aviation community that should shoulder the responsibility for not plugging the holes that clearly exist in the current system.

Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 was flying from Amsterdam, the capital of the Netherlands, to Kuala Lumpur last Thursday when it was shot down in an apparent missile strike while crossing over eastern Ukraine, where pro-Russian rebels are fighting government forces.

All 298 passengers and crew on board died.

Following the crash, travellers were shocked to learn that in the week just before that, many carriers, including SIA, Germany's Lufthansa and Air India, had collectively operated hundreds of flights over the same area.

At least two flights - flown by SIA and Air India - are believed to have been within 25km of the Malaysian jet when it was blown up.

Netizens took to social media and readers also turned to The Straits Times Forum Page to lash out at SIA and the other airlines.

Why were they flying over what is clearly a conflict zone? It did not help that a few other carriers, including South Korea's airlines, decided months ago to avoid Ukraine's airspace even before the incident.

It is unacceptable, especially for a premium carrier like SIA, to be so lax about the security of its customers, travellers and netizens said.

Surely its customers deserve better.

And even if avoiding danger zones means flying longer routes and incurring higher operating costs, so be it. It is the right thing to do.

The anger and controversy prompted a reply from SIA's senior vice-president for flight operations, Captain Gerard Yeap.

He said in a letter published in The Straits Times yesterday that decisions on the use of airspace are made based on numerous factors, such as weather, safety and security conditions, advisories from international and regional bodies, and any restrictions that may be imposed by the national authorities responsible for the safety of the airspace.

In the case of Ukraine, the particular airspace that Flight MH17 used was cleared by the national Ukrainian authority managing it.

There were other parts of the country's airspace that were closed to commercial flights, and SIA and other airlines had been avoiding these areas for many months, he said.

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