LONDON, England, Wednesday July 23, 2014 – The tragedy of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17, allegedly shot down last Thursday over eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 passengers and crew on board, continues to dominate the news.
Now, questions are being asked about why airlines were still operating in the conflict zone despite warnings from as far back as April from the United Nation’s International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) about potential risks to commercial planes.
The ICAO advised carriers to consider alternative routes after outlining “the possible existence of serious risks to the safety of international civil flights.”
Responding to the warnings, American flights were banned from flying over Ukraine, but European and Asian carriers nevertheless continued their operations in the area.
In the wake of the crash, while defending the Malaysian Airlines decision to fly over eastern Ukraine, the country’s Prime Minister Najib Razak said international air authorities had deemed the flight path secure.
“The aircraft’s flight route was declared safe by the International Civil Aviation Organization. And (the) International Air Transportation Association has stated that the airspace the aircraft was traversing was not subject to restrictions,” the prime minister said.
Meanwhile, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) gave British airlines the all-clear to fly over Ukraine as recently as a month ago.
In a “note to airmen,” known as a Notam, released on June 14, multiple areas over Ukraine were listed where there were complications arising from Russia and Ukraine vying to control the skies, yet no specific advice against flying into the area was said to have been given.
So exactly how many commercial flights were in the neighbourhood when MH17 met its horrific date with destiny? Fasten your seatbelts and read on.
According to European aviation officials, nearly 300 passenger planes were scheduled to fly over Ukraine on the day of the alleged attack.
To make matters scarier, a Singapore Airlines passenger plane was flying just 15 miles away from flight MH17 when it was allegedly blown out of the sky.
Flight tracking aviation website Flightradar24.com revealed that the Copenhagen to Singapore flight was in airspace above the dangerous Donetsk region a mere two minutes before a surface-to-air missile allegedly hit the Malaysia Airlines plane.
Also too close for comfort was Virgin Atlantic’s packed Flight VS301 from Delhi to London, which was over the city of Zaporizhia in Eastern Ukraine and about 140 miles from where the missile was said to have been launched.
The airline subsequently joined scores of others re-routing planes away from the Ukranian war–zone.
A Virgin spokeswoman said: “Virgin Atlantic can confirm that we are not currently flying over Ukrainian air space. Safety and security is our top priority and we will always follow government advice in such matters.”
Data also reveals that 55 planes flew over the war zone on the day of the tragedy.
Airlines that used the same airspace over Donetsk as MH17 on the same day include: Austrian Airlines; Jet Airways; Thai Airways; Pakistan International Airlines; Qatar Airways; Etihad; and Emirates; as well as another Malaysian Airlines flight travelling from Heathrow to Kuala Lumpur.
Immediately after news broke of the downing of MH17, airlines rushed to cancel flights entering Ukrainian airspace, with British Airways confirming it had axed its once-a-day Heathrow to Kiev flight.
Various Asian carriers nevertheless said they had cancelled their routes over Ukraine months ago. South Korea’s Korean Air and Asiana had already re-routed flights, as had Taiwan’s China Airlines and the Australian carrier Qantas.
Singapore Airlines confirmed that it had been using Ukrainian airspace but had “re-routed all flights” to alternative corridors away from the region.
Ukrainian airspace has now been closed until further notice.