MH17: Why wouldn’t airline just avoid flying over Ukraine?

THE former head of safety at Qantas has questioned whether Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 should have been flying over eastern Ukraine given the heightened state of the conflict with Russia.

Ron Bartsch, who now heads international aviation consultancy AvLaw International, said airline network planners had a choice over whether they wanted to fly over dangerous areas or go around them, even if it would require more fuel.

Mr Bartsch said while bodies like the International Air Transport Association issued advisories and warnings from time to time, incidents like MH17 “really hit home that it is up to individual airlines to continually monitor and assess the risk on a daily basis”.

Ultimately it was up to the airlines themselves to determine whether potential hazards on their routes were within “an acceptable level of safety”, he said.

Mr Bartsch said there had been instances, such as a volcano eruption in Chile, when Australian airlines had chosen not to fly even though the airspace was declared safe by authorities.

“You can use the analogy of a policeman can’t be there to tell you when to cross the road and when not to,” he said.

“It is up to the individual, in the case of airlines, to make that assessment.”

European air traffic control group Eurocontrol said Ukrainian authorities had closed the airspace from the ground level to 9750 metres, but the airspace at 10,000 metres, where MH17 was flying at the time it was shot down, had remained open.

Malaysia Airlines said the flight route had been declared safe by the International Civil Aviation Organisation and the it was not subject to restrictions. But, other airlines were avoiding the area.

Qantas said none of its flight paths tracked across Ukraine and its London to Dubai services now flew 640 kilometres south.

Emirates said it had suspended flights from Dubai to Kiev but added its flights to and from Europe and the US flew a different route outside the zone where MH17 was shot down.

Cathay Pacific said its flights did not fly over the concerned airspace, while Singapore Airlines would not detail its flight paths.