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$66 more each was enough to bypass Ukraine

Flight MH17 ‘could have avoided Ukrainian airspace for an extra $66 per passenger’

  • Flight MH17, a Boeing 777-220ER aircraft, costs $25,000 an hour to run
  • A 45-minute diversion would have cost Malaysia Airlines up to $18,750 for the full journey
  • Operating costs include fuel, cabin crew, maintenance, insurance and ground services
  • Aviation expert Ron Bartsch said it was up to the airline which route to take

Diverting the ill-fated Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 around hostile Ukrainian airspace would have cost the airline just $66 a passenger, calculations have revealed.

The additional 45 minutes of flight time that would have been required to divert the flight – accounting for costs such as fuel, maintenance, and cabin crew – would have cost the airline between $15,500 and $18,750.

That figure is based on direct operating costs running at up to $25,000 an hour for the 777-220ER aircraft.

The equation roughly comes to $66 per passenger, The Australian newspaper has reported, and aviation experts believe the cost-saving mechanism is why many airlines have opted to take cheaper, more direct routes.

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Rerouting the passenger jet would have cost the airline roughly $66 a passenger

It has been confirmed since the crash, which killed 298 people, that MH17 was flying at altitude and in airspace approved by Eurocontrol, which has since closed the route over the Eastern Ukraine region of Dnipropetrovsk ‘until further notice’.

‘All flight plans that are filed using these routes are now being rejected by Eurocontrol,’ a statement said.

But aviation experts – including the former head of Qantas safety – are raising questions as to why it was even open at all.

The boss of international aviation consultancy Avlaw Aviation Consulting International, Ron Bartsch, said it was ultimately up to the airline to decide what route it wishes to take and that is tricky given the savings it can make on fuel, travelling direct.

He has called for an international body, possibly through the International Air Transport Association, to give carriers a better indication of the risks associated with trouble spots.

Mr Bartsch said there had been instances, such as the recent volcano eruption in Chile, when Australian airlines had chosen not to fly even though the airspace was declared safe by authorities.

‘It is up to the individual, in the case of airlines, to make that (decision),’ he told the Sydney Morning Herald. 

He said deciding not to fly over a conflict zone would come at a commercial cost to an airline, because more fuel would be required at a time when prices are high.

In the case of MH17, Ukrainian and Russian air traffic engineers had given directions to the flight to observe a minimum altitude of 32,000ft minimum, and it was warned that the there was ‘combat actions on the territory of the Ukraine near the state border with Russian Federation’ hours before it took off.

Malaysian Transport Minister Llow Tiong Lai said the route was a major traffic zone, confirming that its flight operators ‘followed the rules’.

He cited that many more flights – up to 400 a day – had been used along the same route.

Singapore Airlines denied it flew the same route taken by MH17, as did Etihad. However both have found themselves in hot water after flight-tracking software indicated that they had.

Qantas confirmed it didn’t use that airspace and had rerouted all flights about 800km south of that region earlier this year.