U.S. air carriers to avoid Russia-Ukraine border airspace

WASHINGTON Thu Jul 17, 2014 5:58pm EDT

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - American air carriers have agreed to avoid flying through airspace near Russia's border with Ukraine after a Malaysia Airlines plane carrying 295 people crashed in the area on Thursday, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration said.

Announcing the voluntary flight restrictions, the FAA said it had been in contact with U.S. airlines after Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crashed in an area racked by civil war.

The cause of the crash is under investigation.

The FAA noted in its statement that in April it issued an order prohibiting U.S. aircraft from flying in the airspace over the Crimean region of Ukraine and nearby parts of the Black Sea and Sea of Azov.

The FAA said the order, known as a Notice to Airmen, was prompted by "unilateral and illegal action by Russia to assert control over Crimean airspace," including international airspace administered by Ukraine. In March, Russia annexed Crimea.

The FAA said Russia's actions at the time had created "the potential for conflicting air traffic control instructions from Ukrainian and Russian authorities" and a risk of civil aircraft being misidentified by authorities.

The FAA's April order also warned U.S. operators and pilots flying in other parts of Ukraine, including Kiev, Lvov, Dnepropetrovsk and Odessa, to "exercise extreme caution due to the continuing potential for instability."

The FAA said that its April order, which will remain in effect until April 23, 2015, did not cover the specific airspace where the Malaysian flight went down on Thursday.

(Additional reporting by Alwyn Scott; Editing by David Storey, Toni Reinhold)