MH17’s flightpath was safe, says IATA

In a statement released yesterday (July 21) IATA’s director general and CEO Tony Tyler confirmed that Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 was complying with international guidance when it was shot down over Ukraine. “MH17 was a clearly identified commercial jet. And it was shot down – in complete violation of international laws, standards and conventions – while broadcasting its identity and presence on an open and busy air corridor at an altitude that was deemed to be safe,” he said.

Following confirmation the 777 was downed by a surface-to-air missile, questions have been raised as to why commercial flights were crossing Eastern Ukranian airspace during a time of conflict, particularly when military aircraft were being targeted and when some operators had made the decision to avoid the area.

In its initial reaction to the news of the MH17 crash, ICAO highlighted that it had warned airlines of potential ATM issues in the area, but did not comment on whether the airspace should have been closed.

According to Tyler, this decision should not be made by international aviation bodies, but by local governments.

“Governments will need to take the lead in reviewing how airspace risk assessments are made,” he argued. “And the industry will do all that it can to support governments, through ICAO, in the difficult work that lies ahead.”

IATA is firmly laying the question of whether Ukrainian airspace should have been open at the door of political leaders. But surely international aviation bodies, such as IATA and ICAO, have an important role to play in these decisions?

What organisations are better placed to provide context to such risks? Who can help politicians to understand what they really mean to the commercial aviation sector?

The International Federation of Air Line Pilots’ Associations yesterday called on national states and international aviation organisations to consider how such attacks could be prevented in future, through a “multi-layered approach with an emphasis based on both ground and airspace security”.

In distancing itself from decision making, IATA should be careful not to throw the baby out with the bath water and find itself on the outside looking in.

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