UK & World News

  • 19 July 2014, 16:51

Malaysia Airlines Defends War Zone Flight Path

A Malaysia Airlines official has defended the company's decision to fly over eastern Ukraine after flight MH17 was brought down.

Hugh Dunleavy, commercial director for the airline, said there had been no incidents involving civilian aircraft using the flight path and Malaysia Airlines had been using it "for quite some time".

However, at least three Ukrainian military aircraft were hit by missiles fired by pro-Russian separatists operating in the region in the week before MH17 was shot out of the sky, killing 298 people. Of the victims, 189 are Dutch.

Mr Dunleavy told Sky News: "Now there's been an incident like this, everyone is looking back saying 'you should have done something different'.

"But at the time we were flying, along with many other airlines on that flight path, there had been no incidents involving civilian aircraft.

"These are routes that are traditionally accepted on a day-by-day basis by the air traffic control authorities so they also consider them safe to fly.

"This was something totally extraordinary, it could just as easily have been the aircraft ahead of Malaysia Airlines or the aircraft behind that was hit."

Mr Dunleavy added the airline would now be using an alternative flight path around Ukraine and they have stopped calling the route MH17 out of respect for the victims. It will now be called MH19.

The International Civil Aviation Organisation, a UN agency and other aviation authorities recently issued a "notice to airmen" (NOTAM) putting the eastern edge of Ukrainian airspace off limits up to 32,000 feet because of the conflict.

But MH17 was flying at 33,000 feet when it was hit by a missile fired from what experts believe was a Buk launcher.

Ukraine has now closed all airspace in the east. 

Ismail Nasaruddin, president of the Malaysian Flight Attendant Union, said some crew members were too distraught to work following the tragedy.

He said: "We have lost 21 crew members in a very short time period. This is not something we like to see.

"We are affected, the crew members are demoralised by the essence of this tragic incident.

"What we are looking at now is probably an event that Malaysia crew members have never experienced before."

Daniel Holland, a military aviation expert, told Sky News airspace above war zones should be sealed off to commercial aircraft.

He said: "When a war zone occurs, everything from ground level up until realistically the level of space needs to be sealed off to any and all commercial traffic just to avoid something like this happening where a plane accidentally wanders over a battle ground.

"You've got that probability that an accidental misfire could occur and strike a civilian target without any real rhyme or reason, other than it being in the wrong place at the wrong time."

On Tuesday, Polish blogger Michael Dembinski suggested flying over eastern Ukraine was "worrying".

He wrote: "Take a look at eastern Ukraine and you'll see a procession of civilian aircraft flying along an air corridor between Luhansk, Donetsk, Horlivka, Kramatorsk - places where battles are raging and people are being killed.

"Yet blithely oblivious to what's happening on the ground, some of the world's largest civilian airliners are criss-crossing the area at 38,000ft."

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