MH17 'exposed a gap' in safety

JAMIE FREED
Last updated 10:21 30/07/2014
MH17

GAP IN SAFETY: "The challenge is to close the specific gap or gaps that allowed this tragedy to happen.”: IATA CEO Tony Tyler.

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The aviation industry will form a high-level task force composed of state and industry experts to discuss the best way to collect and distribute information about potential threats to aircraft in the wake of the MH17 disaster.

After a meeting of key industry bodies in Montreal, the International Civil Aviation Organisation said it would also convene a high-level safety conference with all 191 of the United Nations body's member states in February.

International Air Transport Association chief executive Tony Tyler attended the meeting on Tuesday on behalf of his group's airline members, which include Qantas Airways and Virgin Australia Holdings.

Tyler said there was no escaping that what happened to MH17, which was shot down by a surface-to-air missile over eastern Ukraine, should not have happened.

"It exposed a gap in the system," he said. "The system is not broken. It works extremely well in the vast majority of cases. And the proof of that is clearly evident in that air transport is the safest mode of global mass transit known to humankind.  So the challenge is to close the specific gap or gaps that allowed this tragedy to happen."

In the case of MH17, Ukraine had advised its airspace was safe for travel above 32,000 feet, but the aircraft was shot down when flying at 33,000 feet. Tyler said it was essential that airlines received clear guidance regarding threats to their passengers, crew and aircraft.

"This is the responsibility of states," he said. "There are no excuses. Even sensitive information can be sanitized in a way that ensures airlines get essential and actionable information without compromising methods or sources."

Several recent incidents have highlighted the problematic nature of relying on states that receive lucrative overflight fees for aircraft passing over their airspace for decision-making.  

Most airlines are avoiding Syrian airspace, but Malaysia Airlines last week flew through it post-MH17 based on advice from Syria that its airspace was safe.

Emirates this week said it would begin re-routing its flights around Iraq, but alliance partner Qantas and other major carriers like British Airways and Etihad Airways see no need to do so at present.

And last week, Israel said it was safe to land at Tel Aviv's airport but US authorities banned American aircraft from doing so and European regulators issued warnings against doing so.

"This is all far from the authoritative, accurate, consistent, and unequivocal information needed to support effective decisions on such an important issue," Tyler said. "Governments must do better."

Civil Air Navigation Services Organisation director general Jeff Poole, who represents air traffic controllers, said the MH17 incident showed gaps in the management of airspace.

He said air traffic controllers needed correct and reliable information and guidance from states.

"We need the right information in the right place at the right time to enable prompt and appropriate airspace management actions," he said.

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"For air traffic management we don't need detailed security and intelligence reasons for airspace restrictions and closures, but we do need authoritative, accurate and consistent decisions from the appropriate authorities."

- Sydney Morning Herald

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