SINGAPORE, July 18 ― Malaysia Airlines System Bhd, whose plane carrying 298 passengers was shot down over eastern Ukraine, took a route that Qantas Airways Ltd and several other carriers avoided.
Qantas hasn’t been using that route for a few months, said Andrew McGinnes, a spokesman for the Australian carrier, while Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd said it hasn’t been flying over the area for “quite some time.” Singapore Airlines Ltd said it’s “no longer using Ukrainian airspace.”
The attack, which killed everyone on board the flight to Kuala Lumpur from Amsterdam, has led the Malaysian carrier to take alternative airpaths for its European flights. The accident comes four months after its Flight 370 bound for Beijing disappeared without a trace.
“All airlines will be avoiding it like a plague,” Mohshin Aziz, an analyst at Malayan Banking Bhd in Kuala Lumpur, said about the Ukrainian flight path. “Even today, Syria is in the middle of a war and commercial aircraft pass it every day ― there hasn’t been an incident.”
Ukraine’s state security service said it intercepted phone conversations among militants discussing the missile strike, which knocked Flight MH17 from the sky about 30 kilometres (18 miles) from the Russian border. US officials said the weapon probably was a Russian-made model used widely in Eastern Europe.
“The usual flight route was earlier declared safe by the International Civil Aviation Organisation,” Malaysian Air said in an e-mailed statement today. “International Air Transportation Association has stated that the airspace the aircraft was traversing was not subject to restrictions.”
The Boeing Co 777 crashed late yesterday in the main battleground of Ukraine’s civil war, threatening to escalate tensions in Europe’s worst geopolitical crisis since the end of the Cold War. A European air-traffic control agency routed planes away from the region, which sits astride some of the busiest routes to and from Asia.
Among other Asia-Pacific carriers, Korean Air Lines Co and Asiana Airlines Inc. avoided the area since March 3, the two South Korean companies said in e-mailed statements. Air New Zealand Ltd, PT Garuda Indonesia, All Nippon Airways Co and Japan Airlines Co said they aren’t flying over Ukraine. Philippine Airlines Inc said it avoids “that war zone.”
“Our B777-300ER is much longer range, need not risk flying there for our London flight,” Philippine Air President Ramon Ang said in a mobile-phone text message.
Singapore Air didn’t say if it was flying the route until yesterday’s crash. Its latest comment that it’s no longer traversing the airspace was a revision of an earlier statement that said its flights aren’t flying over that area.
Malaysian Air’s Flight 17 carried 283 passengers and 15 crew members, with 154 Dutch travellers making up the biggest national group, according to a tally by Malaysia Airlines.
Other airlines that once flew through selected airspace corridors to avoid Ukraine’s civil war are adjusting routes or staying away from the country entirely. Deutsche Lufthansa AG and KLM said they will avoid flying over eastern Ukraine, while Delta Air Lines Inc. is staying away from the whole country.
US carriers have voluntarily agreed not operate in the airspace near the Russian-Ukraine border, the Federal Aviation Administration said in an e-mail. Italy’s aviation agency ENAC said its airlines should avoid flying over the area as well.
The area was a popular route for flights going between Europe and Asian cities such as Singapore, Mikael Robertsson, co-founder of Stockholm-based Flightradar24 AB, said in an interview. Air traffic control and airlines should have been more cautious of the area, said Brent Spencer of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.
“The fact that the airspace is not restricted doesn’t mean you don’t need to give extra consideration whether you want to fly to it or not,” said Spencer, who is director of Embry- Riddle’s air-traffic control program in Prescott, Arizona. “You might want to think twice about flying through an airspace where there’s somebody shooting missiles at anybody.” ― Bloomberg