Airlines were warned this spring to stay away from Ukrainian airspace, but many chose to fly over the country anyway because it was cheaper, an airline security expert says.
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration issued a warning on April 23, asking airlines to avoid parts of Ukraine including Crimea, the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov. It urged pilots to “exercise extreme caution” when flying over cities such as the capital Kiev, and Lvov.
The International Civil Aviation Organization and the European Aviation Safety Agency also issued warnings. But many airlines ignored them because avoiding Ukraine would mean longer routes and higher fuel costs, aviation safety expert Norman Shanks told HuffPost UK.
Shanks, a former head of group security head for the British Airports Authority, said whoever shot down the plane likely “deliberately” targeted it, as civilian airliners are easily distinguishable from military aircraft.
Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 crashed in the Donetsk region of Ukraine on Thursday, carrying 295 passengers and crew. Initial news reports indicated it had been shot down by a surface-to-air missile.
David Kaminski-Morrow, editor of Flightglobal magazine, suggested the tragedy could have serious ramifications both for the airline involved and Ukraine, which is likely right now mulling whether to shut down its airspace.
“Any decision about the opening or closing of Ukranian airspace will be a matter for the Ukrainians,” he told HuffPost UK. “It could well be that part or all of that airspace will now be closed. Also, individual airlines … could decide to detour around Ukraine."
Questions about Malaysia Airlines’ safety record are bound to surface as well, given it was one of its airliners that disappeared over the South China Sea in March, carrying 239 passengers and crew.
“There must be serious concerns about how the airline can recover from this,” Kaminski-Morrow said. “There will obviously be political as well as aviation concerns from all this. This will run and run."
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