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Without Decoys, MH17 pilots couldn’t avoid missile


The Malaysia Airlines (MAS) pilots were unlikely to have been able to dodge an anti-aircraft missile believed to have downed their MH17 jetliner even if they saw it heading towards them, The Australian Financial Review (AFR) reported.

That is because civilian planes are not usually equipped with either “warning or decoy systems” to prevent attacks while airborne, a commercial pilot familiar with flying through hostile airspace told the daily.

“The crew may have sighted the efflux [smoke] of the missile coming at them… they may not. Evasive manoeuvres for a civil pilot in a civil airliner would be highly unlikely even if they sighted the efflux and knew what it was,” the unnamed pilot was quoted saying.

The Australian paper noted the pilot had experience flying through Afghanistan’s airspace previously.

The paper cited the pilot adding that surface-to-air missiles previously would not have been able to fly above 10,000-feet.

European air traffic control group Eurocontrol said Ukrainian authorities had closed the airspace from the ground level to 32,000 feet but the airspace at 33,000 feet, where the Boeing jet was flying at the time it was shot down, had remained open.

Flowers and mementos lie on wreckage at the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, near the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region July 19, 2014. — Reuters pic

But the pilot pointed out that conditions in Afghanistan was different from the MH17 tragedy in Ukraine.

“Afghanistan was different in that the US had air superiority and [an airborne early warning and control system, or AWACS] monitoring everything in the sky,” he said.

AFR also quoted former head of safety at Qantas Airways, Ron Bartsch, has questioned whether flight MH17 should have been flying over the eastern Ukraine, given the heightened state of the conflict with Russia.

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 to go around them even if it would require more fuel.

“I think the lesson out of it is more generally that bodies like the International Air Transport Association, whilst they issue advisories and warnings from time to time, it really hits home that it is up to individual airlines to continually monitor and assess the risk on a daily basis as to whether or not the hazards within their network are of the extent where they are not of an acceptable level of safety,” he said.

Bartsch said there had been instances, such as when there was 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.”

Bartsch said deciding not to fly over a conflict zone like Ukraine, Syria, Israel, Libya or Iraq would come at a commercial cost to an airline because more fuel would be required at a time of high fuel prices.

Transport Minister Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai has denied talk that Malaysia Airlines (MAS) Flight MH17 had chosen to fly a shorter route over conflict-ridden eastern Ukraine to save money and fuel.

Liow also repeatedly stressed that the route taken by the commercial jetliner, which was shot down in the region controlled by pro-Russia separatists, was a safe flight path approved by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).

Flight MH17 is believed to have been shot down over eastern Ukraine by pro-Russian militants Thursday, killing all 298 people aboard

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