What now for aviation industry – and Malaysia Airlines?

Airlines should be given accurate, up-to-date threat information

Aviation safety expert Norman Shanks looks into the implications of the MH17 tragedy for TTG Digital.

“The first question, of course, is why the aircraft was in that air corridor at that time,” he says. “The simple answer is that the airline flight planners, flight crew and all concerned with routine air flight planning for flights operating from or through Europe regarded the area as safe to fly at altitudes above 32,000 feet.”

The MH17 flight level appears to have been 33,000 feet, as mandated by the Ukrainian Air Traffic Control.

“As Malaysia Airlines, and many other airlines, had been successfully flying this route – the most direct and therefore economical – for quite some time, and given there were no restrictions in force above 32,000 feet, the airline’s flight planning team had every reason to regard it as safe,” Shanks says.

A small number of other carriers, such as Qantas and British Airways, made a decision to avoid Ukrainian airspace completely, he adds. In the event, their decision proved to be the correct one.

The most likely impact of this tragic incident is that Ukrainian airspace will remain closed. Planes trying to submit a flight plan along the ill-fated MH17 route will have that plan rejected by Eurocontrol and the Ukrainian ATC.

“One could argue that this should have been the case prior to the shooting down of MH17, but the regulatory bodies left the decision to the airlines based on the Ukrainian advice that flight levels above 32,000 feet were safe,” Shanks says.

He believes that Eurocontrol and airlines should be given accurate and up-to-date threat information by government bodies with a better understanding of risks in certain parts of the world. Air corridors should be banned if there is even the remotest probability of sophisticated weaponry being in the hands of hostile ground forces.

As for Malaysia Airlines, which some commentators suggest could be bankruptcy, Shanks believes it will not be allowed to fail. It is a key part of the Malaysian economy. There will be difficult and lean times ahead, but it is capable of surviving.

TTG Digital

[pictured: 24 hours of flights over 30,000 feet; image courtesy Metabunk.org]