Stronger rules needed on flight paths: Malaysia Airlines official

Stronger rules needed on flight paths: Malaysia Airlines official

LONDON - The commercial director of Malaysia Airlines on Sunday called for a complete overhaul of the way flight paths are deemed safe following the downing of flight MH17 by a suspected missile over rebel-held eastern Ukraine.

Writing in Britain's Sunday Telegraph, Hugh Dunleavy said the disaster would have "an unprecedented impact on the aviation industry", claiming that airlines can no longer depend on aviation authorities for reliable information about flying over conflict zones.

"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," he wrote.

"We are not intelligence agencies, but airlines, charged with carrying passengers in comfort between destinations." Airlines seek the most direct routes possible to minimise flight time and fuel costs, but must take account of "notices to airmen" (NOTAMs), which advise of danger in specific places and at specific airports.

These are issued both by aviation authorities from the home country of the airline and by the countries they are flying over.

Although NOTAMs were in place over some areas of Ukraine at the time, MH17 was not in contravention of any of these.

"The fact that a civilian aircraft was shot out of the sky over what was designated a safe flight corridor is proof that we have to take a much closer look and redefine what we consider safe flight corridors," wrote Dunleavy.

"The best way to do this is for the airlines, IATA (International Air Transport Association) and ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organisation), to get together and review existing processes and set more stringent standards about what they consider to be safe flight corridors," he added.

But other carriers, including British Airways and various American airlines, had already taken the decision not to fly over eastern Ukraine.

Malaysia Airlines also came in for sharp criticism after it emerged that one of its jets had flown over war-torn Syria, just days after the MH17 disaster, although the airspace was not subject to restrictions.

World aviation officials will hold an emergency meeting on Tuesday to discuss the downing of Flight MH17.

The "special high-level meeting" will cover "appropriate actions to be pursued in order to more effectively mitigate potential risks to civil aviation arising from conflict zones," said an ICAO statement.

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