Should MH17 have flown above Ukraine?

As the world takes in the shocking news that Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was shot down by a BUK surface-to-air missile, questions are being raised as to whether the 777 should have been flying through Ukraine airspace. MH17 was brought down while flying at 33,000ft through the Dnipropetrovsk Flight Information Region (FIR), which at the time was closed up to 32,000ft.

The airline, which is still reeling from the disappearance of MH370 in March, has released a statement claiming that the flight path MH17 was following was approved by ICAO.

Meanwhile, the Malaysian transport minister has defended the national carrier arguing that 15 out of 16 Asia Pacific airlines used the same route. However, others have claimed that airlines, such as Asiana, Korean Air and Qantas, stopped flying the route in recent months due to concerns over security in the region, where fighting has been taking place between Ukraine's armed forces and separatist rebels.

While ICAO has refused to comment on Malaysia Airlines’ statement that it had approved route taken by MH17, it has highlighted that it recently wrote to operators advising of potential safety issues relating to ATM in the area. In April, it warned that both Ukraine and Russia were operating ATM in the Simferopol FIR, which neighbours Dnipropetrovsk.

At the same time airspace to the south of MH17’s route, over Crimea and south eastern Ukraine was the subject of restrictions by the FAA and Eurocontrol.
Following the crash of MH17, the Ukranian government has confirmed that three of its military aircraft – one AN-26 transporter and two SU-25 fighters – were also fired upon this week, with two of the aircraft brought down.

The Ukrainian authorities have now completely closed the Dnipropetrovsk FIR until further notice, and the FAA has also prohibited US flights from entering the Simferopol FIR, but should these decisions have been made earlier?

Hindsight, as they say, is 20:20, but when a situation becomes serious enough for airlines to voluntarily reroute their aircraft, perhaps it is worth the authorities re-evaluating their assessment of the risks?

As the world reflects on the tragic fate of the MH17’s 298 passengers and crew, there can be no doubt that aviation bodies will be looking at any measures that could prevent such a terrible event occurring again in future.

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