Why airlines didn't avoid risky Ukraine airspace

Aviation experts: Route shorter, saves fuel
Associated Press
Jul 18, 2014


The shooting down of a Malaysian Airlines plane with nearly 300 people on board over war-torn eastern Ukraine is likely to have profound consequences for the world's airlines.

Airlines are already being more vigilant about avoiding trouble spots. That will make flights longer and more costly because of the need for extra fuel — an expense that will be passed on to passengers. They may be quicker to abandon routes near conflict areas.

In the aftermath of Thursday's disaster, carriers around the globe rerouted flights to avoid Ukraine. Malaysia Airlines announced that it will no longer fly over any portion of the country, routing flights over Turkey instead.

Some airlines had been circumventing the country for weeks after warnings from aviation authorities, and experts questioned Malaysia's decision to fly near the fighting.

"I find it pretty remarkable that a civil airline company — if this aircraft was on the flight plan — that they are flight-planning over an area like that," said Robert Francis, a former vice chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board.

The airline noted Friday that other carriers flew the same path in the days and weeks before — and even on the same day its plane was shot down. Malaysian Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lay insisted again Friday that the airline's path from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was an internationally approved route.

Violence in Ukraine between government forces and pro-Russia rebels in the country's east erupted after Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in March. Earlier this week, the rebels claimed responsibility for hitting a Ukrainian military jet with a portable surface-to-air missile; the pilot was able to land safely. And the government charged that a military transport plane was shot down by a missile fired from Russian territory.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration had warned pilots in April not to fly over parts of Ukraine, and the U.N.'s International Civil Aviation Organization told governments to warn their airlines. Thursday's crash, however, occurred outside those warning areas, prompting the FAA to expand its prohibition to eastern Ukraine.

Thomas Routh, an aviation attorney in Chicago, said it would be unusual for an airline to ignore such warnings, but he said there are many dangerous air corridors and airlines must decide whether a flight will be safe.

"There are airlines flying through Afghanistan airspace every day," Routh said.

Greg Raiff, an aviation consultant in New Hampshire, said that if airlines must avoid all the world's hot spots, flight times would be extended, requiring extra fuel and pilots. Some routes will become uneconomical, forcing airlines to abandon them, he said.

Aviation experts said that many airlines continued to fly over Ukraine despite the warnings because it offered a shorter route that saved fuel. Malaysian officials denied that was their motive.

Joshua Marks, CEO of aviation-data firm masFlight, calculated that flying over Ukraine instead of around the country saved Malaysia Airlines up to $1,500 per flight in fuel, or 2 percent, and shaved about 10 minutes off the trip.

Ukraine closed the eastern region to air traffic below 26,000 feet on July 1 and extended the ban to 32,000 feet on Monday. An official with Eurocontrol, a consortium of European air traffic agencies, said about 350 planes had been flying over the area every day before the restrictions, but that had dropped by about one-fourth before Thursday's crash.

By Friday, snapshots from flight-tracking services showed dense traffic to the west of Ukraine, light traffic over western Russia, and very few planes over Ukraine.

Dubai-based Emirates airlines suspended flights to Kiev indefinitely. Germany's Lufthansa rerouted trips to avoid eastern Ukraine, although flights to Kiev and Odessa were unaffected. Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines said that it would stop flying over any part of the country. India's aviation agency said Air India and Jet Airways would also avoid Ukraine.

Some airlines had already changed their routes.

Australia's Qantas stopped flying over Ukraine several months ago and shifted its London-Dubai route 645 kilometers (400 miles) to the south. A spokeswoman declined to explain the change. Korean Air said it rerouted cargo and passenger flights in early March as the situation in Crimea deteriorated.

Beyond Ukraine, Emirates recently stopped flying over parts of Syria as a civil war expanded. Some airlines have curtailed service in Iraq, where violence has escalated between the government and a jihadist militant group. The FAA has current warnings about flying over parts of Iran, Yemen, Egypt's Sinai peninsula, North Korea and other countries.

Last month, a gunman in Pakistan fired on a jetliner that was landing in Peshawar, part of the country's volatile northwest region, killing a passenger and wounding two other people. Emirates suspended flights to Peshawar, and other carriers canceled some flights while they reviewed airport security. Two weeks before that, gunmen attacked the country's busiest airport in Karachi.



I recently traveled to China and in the process flew over Russian airspace. Having grown up during the Cold War, I was shocked that I could so routinely fly over the territory of this once hated enemy. But I was also encouraged that our world had moved on from those dark days.

However, as illustrated by this article, those dark days are returning. Airlines must now not only worry about fuel and weather, but the multitude of wars sprouting like weeds around the globe. Our "leaders" have decided that America will no longer be the global policeman and we are witnessing the terrible results of that decision. Dictators around the globe have seen the weak reaction of our president to their atrocities and they have been emboldened. Tragedies such as this are just the beginning.

In the past America has taken a strong stand against barbarism, not because we are a bully - as the political left likes to portray - but rather because the world is a very dangerous place and needs the steady hand of a benevolent force. I will be the first to admit that the United States has made foreign policy mistakes in the past, but this fear of failure should not stop us from trying to use our power for good around the world.

Nature (and politics) abhors a void, so as the United States withdraws from the world stage, the powers of darkness are rushing in to fill the void. I guess we can take some comfort in the fact that at least we are still safe behind our secure borders - oh, I forgot that is no longer the case either!

Coram Deo

Well written OhioEngineer and spot on. The feckless "lead from behind" strategy of the current administration is an embarrassment and has created a vacuum that has enabled despotism to flourish and our allies scrambling.


Re: "created a vacuum,"


I'm not saying that the Incompetent-in-Chief is responsible for EVERY minor and major incident in the world, but his continued projection of weakness helps to embolden those who would take advantage of it.

He appears less like a TR and more like America's Chamberlain.

As a spit in the eye, Assad called an end to his much touted "Arab Spring."

And even the European allies aren't on board with his sanctions against Russia.


How many of you are willing to suit up and go play Superman? It costs money to defend others and it also costs lives. What is so noble about dying for an unknown cause? I do not consider the President weak but practical. America is literally falling apart yet some still think that flexing our military muscles should be a priority. I don't. America attacked two different countries recently so who are we to say "do as I say not as I do"? If the Europeans don't agree with his approach they are free to do whatever they feel will work. Take care of America if you want America to be on top. Right now, we are not!

thinkagain's picture

“America is literally falling apart…”


Thank a socialist/liberal/progressive/communist/fascist moral relativist (AKA Democrat).


Attacking Russia is going to make it all better?


Re: "I do not consider the President weak but practical."

Other than b*tching and whining, what's his foreign policy strategy?

An example from Aug. 2011:

“For the sake of the Syrian people, the time has come for President Assad to step aside.”

Assad was just re-elected.

The Big Dog's back

Suit up ohio enzyme. Go do the fighting for someone else. And don't the door hit you where the sun don't shine.

The Big Dog's back

ohioexcrement, which civil war have we intervened in has had a good outcome?


Re: "civil war,"

How'd Pres. Obama's U.S. military intervention in Libya turn out?

Re: "good outcome"

Panama - 1903.


It was a CIA operation that worked. Ask Kaddafi?


I agree that it is much easier to do evil in this world than good. A two-bit dictator can cause all sorts of problems with a few RPG's; while building a democracy in the Middle East takes determination, treasure and, yes, even blood. But just because something is difficult, should we not do it?

Call me old fashioned, but I believe that God made the United States rich and powerful for a reason; and it wasn't to insure that we all could have big screen TV's and $200 sneakers. We can either fritter away this incredible inheritance or use for the betterment of others. And here is the amazing thing: when we as a nation take on a noble cause,be it going to the moon or rescuing a nation, we are the better for it - economically, socially and emotionally.


It would appear that this tragic incident was a case of mistaken identity.

"Dr Igor Sutyagin, Research Fellow in Russian Studies from the Royal United Services Institute, believes that MH17 was shot down by rebels based in the 3rd District of Torez, in eastern Ukraine, after mistaking his plane for a government military transport aircraft."


These Russian-made SAMs are plentiful world-wide. This won't be the last one. Perhaps the next one will be purposeful.

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the new ideological nut that essentially replaced bin Laden views him as a moderate.


Stamping out Islamic extremism is like a bad game of whack-a-mole.

The Big Dog's back

pooh, do you think repeating something enough makes it comes true? How many different stories are you going to post this nonsense on?


He wants to become a news source like Reuters or etc.


Re: "do you think,"

So what's your theory blo-dog?


It's a perfect example of the Rightwing mindset :

Save money - not people.


Exactly jazz! It is also a perfect example of greed. It's downright stupid to fly through a war zone!!!!!!




Re: "Rightwing,"

The Malaysians are rightwing?


Awwww , you kidder , Contango.

Coram Deo

From Ambassador Samantha Powers Twitter feed:

Samantha Power ✔ @AmbassadorPower

Hideous scene at #MH17 crash: reports Pro-Russian militants taking victims' bodies from responders at gunpoint. Utter void of human decency.
4:48 PM - 19 Jul 2014

I'm wondering if there will be a tough response from the US or the UN? Unlikely. How horrifying for the families of the victims.