Malaysia Airlines 'should avoid' Ukraine

Last updated 12:45 18/07/2014

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Malaysia Airlines shouldn't have been anywhere near Ukraine, an Australian safety specialist says.

Flight MH17 was carrying 298 people from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur when it crashed in rebel-held east Ukraine.

It's believed the plane was shot down in what has been described as a "terrorist" attack.

Central Queensland University accident investigation and safety specialist Professor Geoff Dell said the airline shouldn't have been flying over Ukraine.

"From as soon as the conflict started they shouldn't have been going anywhere near it," Dell said.

"They should've shifted to alternate routes, like all the other airlines seemed to have done."

He said responsibility for the incident falls to the airline and raises questions about operational decision-making issues.

"You just don't go anywhere near it unless you've got no alternatives and there's always the alternative of not going.

"I'm just flabbergasted."

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said the aircraft flight route was declared safe by the International Civil Aviation Organisation.

The International Air Transportation Association had also stated that the air space that the aircraft was traversing was not subject to restrictions, he said.

Besides, "Malaysia Airlines has confirmed that the aircraft did not make a distress call."

But a former head of airports security group BAA suggested that many airlines including Malaysia Airlines had continued to use the route despite warnings because it was shorter and cheaper.

"It is a busy aviation route and there have been suggestions that a notice was given to aviators telling airlines to avoid that particular area," said Norman Shanks, who is also professor of aviation security at Coventry University in England.

"But Malaysia Airlines, like a number of other carriers, have been continuing to use it because it is a shorter route, which means less fuel and therefore less money," he said.

Former Qantas pilot Graham Dutton, who regularly used to fly the route over Ukraine, said it was a busy flight path.

He said airlines had generally deemed it safe for passenger planes to overfly "hot spots" at cruising altitudes above 28,000 feet.

That was considered a safe level, outside the reach of normal, portable surface-to-air missiles used by non-government forces.

But there are reports the Russian government may have supplied pro-Russian forces with the longer-range missiles. The part of Ukraine where the plane came down is at the centre of an ongoing separatist dispute.

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Dutton said the incident could dramatically change where airlines are willing to fly.

He said that if a missile was found to have downed the Malaysia Airlines flight, as it cruised at 33,000 feet, airlines would have to reassess the risk of ground attacks.

"The normal portable missiles should not have struck aircraft at 33,000 feet," he told the ABC.

"I think this is a bit of a game changer for civil aviation."

Dutton said there would have been no equipment on the plane to detect any missile attack.

"They would have had no idea what was about to happen," Dutton said.

- AAP/AP

 


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