UK & World News

  • 29 July 2014, 7:10

Air Bosses Discuss Routes After MH17 Downing

Aviation industry chiefs from across the world meet in Montreal today to discuss how to avoid another MH17-style disaster.

The issues under debate could have far-reaching consequences for air passengers everywhere.

The conference, hosted by the UN's International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), will examine how to more effectively mitigate risks to passenger planes arising from conflict zones.

Top officials representing airliners, air traffic control and airports are attending amid wide acknowledgement that the tragedy in eastern Ukraine raised serious questions about the safety of flying over, or near, troubled regions across the world.

The flight route and airspace used by MH17 were not closed, although several airlines such as Qantas, British Airways and Cathay Pacific had been avoiding the area for some time before the incident.

Since then the secretary general of the British Airline Pilots Association (Balpa) has said that safety assessments for air routes are "not good enough".

Jim McAuslan called for more decisive global leadership from ICAO on flight operations in or over areas of hostility.

He said that there should have been better international coordination to avoid operations above eastern Ukraine.

Malaysia Airlines director of commercial operations Hugh Dunleavy has said that airlines should not bear the responsibility of assessing flight path safety.

International Air Transportation Authority CEO Tony Tyler, whose organisation represents around 240 airliners, agreed.

In an interview he said choosing routes was "similar to driving a car".

He said: "If the road is open, you assume it is safe.

"If it's closed you find an alternative route."

Currently the ICAO is responsible for issuing international standards and recommended practices for civil aviation.

These standards are used by the body's 191 member states to develop their own legally binding national flying regulations.

The body does not deem airspace or routes safe or unsafe, and says it is the responsibility of member countries to ensure commercial planes can travel safely in the skies they are responsible for.

As well as countries issuing warnings or closing airspace, federal aviation bodies are also able to advise or instruct airlines operating out of their countries, and individual airlines can also make their own judgements about safety.

In early April, the ICAO took the rare step of advising potentially unsafe conditions in the south of Ukraine.

But the warning did not extend to the airspace in which MH17 was flying when it was shot out of the sky by a surface-to-air missile, killing nearly 300 people.

There are other potential problems with boosting the ICAOs' scope and power.

It raises complicated questions about culpability if something happens in an area that has been cleared for use.

And countries like America, that regard ultimate control over sovereign airspace as a crucial component of national security, are unlikely to cede power easily, however loud the chorus of calls for the ICAO to do more become.

Advertisement