Airlines Need More Information About Flying Over Conflict Zones

Airlines Need More Information About Flying Over Conflict Zones

Airplane with problems

Airlines need more and better information to make risk assessments about flying over warzones, according to a new report from the Dutch Safety Board.

A follow-up to its 2015 review of the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17, which was shot while flying over conflict-ridden Ukraine, the new report stresses that more still needs to be done in the aviation industry to improve safety and security.

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Tjibbe Joustra, the watchdog board’s chairman, noted that some progress has been made since the Malaysian Airlines flight incident, including improved information sharing about potential risks of flying over conflicts. He also said airlines are now taking action more quickly than before.

“Airlines are taking a more structured approach to analyzing the risks and uncertainties, scaling up to a higher risk level at an earlier stage,” said the safety board, which investigates how accidents and disasters occur.

The independent board, free to decide which incidents it investigates, focuses on situations in which people’s personal safety is dependent on their parties such as governments or companies.

According to its latest report, various entities are now working together to improve intelligence sharing, including nations, international aviation authorities, and international organizations. However, the overall message of the report is that more needs to be done.

“Very few changes relating to airspace management by nations dealing with armed conflict within their territories have been made,” the board said in a statement, according to the Associated Press. “Also, airlines require more detailed and complex information to perform adequate risk assessments.”

In its 2015 report, the Dutch Safety Board concluded that the Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 was shot down by a Buk missile that was launched by pro-Russian rebels. Everyone aboard the flight, 298 people, was killed. The plane disintegrated in midair.

An international criminal investigation is still underway in that matter.

“The disintegration of the airplane during the flight was the result of the detonation of a warhead above the lefthand side of the cockpit. The airplane crashed over the eastern part of Ukraine, an area in which an armed conflict arose in April 2014. Initially, the conflict mostly took place on the ground, but as from the end of April 2014, it expanded into the airspace. The crash of flight MH17 immediately raised the question of why the airplane was flying over an area where there was an ongoing armed conflict,” states the new report.

The board said its 2015 report answered this question and explained the decision-making process with regard to flying over conflict zones at the time. The initial report also contained 11 recommendations for better management of risks associated with flying over conflict zones.

Due to the global importance of the recommendations, they were sent to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the International Air Transport Association (IATA), all states and all airlines.

Given the size of the Malaysian Airlines disaster, the board in 2018 started a follow-up investigation to determine whether its 11 recommendations were implemented and whether the parties concerned were successful in eliminating the safety shortcomings underlying the recommendations.

While a variety of actions have been taken, the report points out various shortcomings or areas that still lack improvement. In particular, it notes that no or minimal changes have been made to the airspace management by states involved in armed conflicts in their territory.

Joustra said he has seen not seen any recommendation that airspaces be shut down or altitude limits be enforced in skies over conflict zones. Reluctance to enforce such a recommendation may be tied to national interests, he said.

“If you close your airspace, it is a very public admission that you are no longer in charge of your own territory or skies,” Joustra said.


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