An Australian aviation safety expert has proposed the aviation industry develop a system for categorising airspace similar to that used for cyclones to improve airlines’ ability to assess conflict zone risks.
Ron Bartsch, the former head of safety for Qantas Airways who now serves as the chairman of international aviation consultancy AvLaw International, said the International Air Transport Association could be charged with maintaining the warning system “very much like a travel advisory” in the wake of the MH17 tragedy.
“Sometimes if a few airlines are doing it or even the majority of airlines are doing it, an airline may be drawn into a false sense of comfort, if you like, to think ‘if it is good enough for them, it is good enough for us’,” Mr Barstch said.“An independent risk rating system developed by a global authority has the potential to eliminate subjectivity from such assessments.”
His comments came as a major airline safety group has called for changes in the way airspace is controlled in the wake of the Malaysia Airlines tragedy in Ukraine.
The Flight Safety Foundation has called on the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) to organise a high-level ministerial meeting to review the systems in place to warn airlines of hostile airspace and take action after MH17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine last week.
The US-based safety group also wants authorities to bring criminal prosecutions against those who brought down the aircraft and interfered with the investigation.
Ukraine has come under criticism for keeping its airspace open even though it was clear there were surface-to-air missiles in the area with a high enough altitude range to shoot down commercial aircraft at cruising altitude. MH17 was flying at 33,000 feet when it was shot down, apparently by a BUK missile system.
Jon Beatty, the chief executive of the Flight Safety Foundation, said when known threats to civil aviation exist, states should assess and widely publish this information or close the airspace.
“If states cannot discharge their responsibilities to manage their airspace safely, ICAO should play a leading role to alerting or prohibiting airlines from flying through known, hostile airspace,” Mr Beatty said.
Emirates president Tim Clark has called for the International Air Transport Association to hold a meeting of its airline members to agree a response to MH17’s downing, including a potential rethink of the threats posed by regional conflicts.
“The international airline community needs to respond as an entity, saying this is absolutely not acceptable and outrageous, and that it won’t tolerate being targeted in internecine regional conflicts that have nothing to do with airlines,” Mr Clark told Reuters.
Qantas Airways and Virgin Australia have reportedly indicated they would be willing to join an IATA summit on the issue.
No effort should be spared in ensuring such an outrageous event cannot be repeated, says International Air Transport Association chief executive Tony Tyler.
“This was a terrible crime,” Mr Tyler said on Tuesday. “But flying remains safe. And everyone involved in global air transport is fully dedicated to making it even safer. …. No effort should be spared in ensuring that this outrage is not repeated.”
Mr Tyler said the investigation into what happened to MH17 must start quickly and with total freedom and access.
“Actions over the weekend which slowed down progress on both of these priorities were an outrage to human decency,” he said. “We have heard news of potential progress … But promises now need to be turned into reality with actions.”
Malaysia Airlines has come under renewed criticism for its flight paths after it emerged flight MH4 from Kuala Lumpur to London flew over Syrian airspace at 1:20pm local time on July 20.
Malaysia Airlines said the MH4 flight plan was in accordance with ICAO approved routes and complied with a notice to airmen issued by the Syrian Civil Aviation Authority which said that airspace was not subject to restrictions.
Syria, like Ukraine and other countries, including Australia, receives overflight fees when aircraft travel above its airspace, even if they do not take off and land in the country.
That has led some within the aviation industry to criticise the current system of allowing national authorities to decide whether airspace should remain open.
US and European regulators also make recommendations regarding airspace, but those warnings formally apply only to US and European carriers.