(Repeats story published late Wednesday; no changes to text)
By Anshuman Daga and Siva Govindasamy
SINGAPORE/KUALA LUMPUR, July 23 Singapore's
civil aviation authority has asked airlines based in the
city-state to review their risk assessment of conflict zones
following the shooting down of a Malaysia Airlines
jetliner over Ukraine last week.
The deaths of nearly 300 passengers and crew in the downing
of Flight MH17 have shocked the aviation industry and prompted
calls for a re-think on assessing the threat to planes flying
thousands of metres above fighting on the ground.
Before the shooting down of the jet, which Western
governments have blamed on Russian-backed separatists, the
flight path it was following across eastern Ukraine was heavily
used by airlines plying busy routes between Europe and Asia.
Singapore Airlines Ltd (SIA) was one of the
heaviest users of the route in the week before the crash, along
with other international carriers such as Lufthansa,
Thai Airways, Qatar Airways and KLM.
"We note that following the MH17 incident, SIA had
immediately re-routed their flights to avoid Ukrainian
airspace," said the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS)
in an emailed response to questions from Reuters.
"CAAS has also since asked Singapore carriers to review
their risk assessment on conflict areas."
NO GLOBAL AGENCY
Singapore's Changi Airport is a major hub for East-West air
travel, and low cost carriers Tiger Airways, SIA's
Scoot and Jetstar Asia, a budget arm of Qantas Airways,
are also based in the city-state.
In the days since the MH17 tragedy, flight tracking websites
have shown the once-busy skies over eastern Ukraine empty of
traffic, while aircraft crowd along routes across Turkey and the
Black Sea to the south.
In a response to a letter in the Straits Times newspaper on
Wednesday, Singapore Airlines senior vice president of flight
operations Gerard Yeap said the airline had avoided Ukrainian
airspace entirely since the disaster.
"There are several other parts of the world that we
proactively avoid flying through, even though they are available
for use," he said. "This has long been our practice, and is the
result of our continual assessment of advisories from the
national authorities and aviation bodies."
No single global body has overall responsibility for keeping
the skies safe for civil aviation.
Ultimately it is up to individual nations to decide whether
a threat exists and, if necessary close their airspace, although
national civil aviation authorities can ban their domestic
carriers from jurisdictions they consider unsafe.
"The industry has been operating on a system that had
successfully worked for decades and which we honestly and
genuinely believed was robust because years had proved it to be
so," said the chief executive of an Asian carrier who declined
to be identified due to the sensitivity of the matter.
Airlines contacted by Reuters said they routinely look at
advisories known as Notices to Airmen or "NOTAMs", which include
airspace restrictions issued by the authorities responsible for
the airspace. They also consider weather conditions, the safety
and security conditions of the airspace in which they intend to
fly and advisories from international and regional bodies.
German carrier Lufthansa's security desk has around 12
people who oversee a four-step risk analysis process that
includes mapping general risks and assessing the probability of
a targeted attack on its planes.
"Since April, for example, when European authorities
recommended avoiding the Crimea because it was unclear which air
traffic authorities were in charge, Lufthansa had not only been
avoiding the Crimea, but also removed some airports in Ukraine
from its alternative list (of airports for emergency use)
because of the crisis there," the airline said in a statement.
But it is not unusual for airlines to fly over war zones
such as Afghanistan.
"Flying over contested territories such as Afghanistan was
previously thought of as unproblematic because there were no
weapons that could reach passenger planes at the altitudes they
fly," Joerg Handwerg, a board member at German pilots' union
Vereinigung Cockpit and an A320 captain, told Reuters.
Now, after MH17 was apparently brought down by a
sophisticated anti-aircraft missile, there are calls for
international bodies to play a greater role in assessing
threats, although there is no consensus on how that might
The International Air Transport Association (IATA), which
represents airlines, said on Tuesday that governments should
take the lead in any review, while two sources said
representatives to the U.N. civil aviation body ICAO were
considering whether it should expand its role and issue safety
Another possibility might be for IATA to issue warnings of
relative danger, much like weather forecasters issue hurricane
warnings, said Ron Bartsch, the chairman of aviation safety
consultancy AvLaw International.
But Bartsch, a former head of safety at Qantas, said it was
ultimately up to airlines themselves to ensure their flight
paths were safe.
"They can't rely on ICAO with advisories because they're not
timely enough," he said. "These are things that are changing on
a daily basis, almost an hourly basis, in terms of escalation."
(Additional reporting by Victoria Bryan in BERLIN, Alison
Lampert in MONTREAL and Lincoln Feast in SYDNEY; Editing by Alex