(Corrects to show Germany only referring to eastern Ukraine)
* Qantas, British Airways among airlines to avoid Ukraine
* Malaysia Airlines source says followed safety procedures
* Diverting flights costs airlines time and money
* Experts says responsibility lies with regulators and
By Jane Wardell
SYDNEY, July 18 Qantas Airways and
several other airlines altered their flight paths some time ago
to avoid Ukrainian air space after fighting flared up in the
region, raising questions about why others did not do the same.
The issue of whether to avoid flying over conflict zones has
come into sharp focus after the downing of Malaysian Airlines
Flight MH17 on Thursday, killing all 298 people on
International civil aviation regulators had imposed no
restrictions on crossing an area where pro-Russian rebels are
fighting Ukrainian forces, and the majority of carriers had
continued to use a route popular with long-distance flights from
Europe to southeast Asia.
But the fact that a handful of companies decided to
circumnavigate the disputed territory underlined inconsistencies
in airlines' approach to passenger safety.
Aviation experts said piecemeal and potentially conflicting
advice from aviation regulators further confused the situation,
and called for clearer guidance on which areas to avoid.
In addition to Qantas, Air Berlin, Asiana Airlines
Inc, Korean Air Lines Co Ltd and
Taiwan's China Airlines decided to avoid Ukrainian
airspace several months ago.
Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd changed its routes some
time ago, but did not specify when, and a source familiar with
the situation said British Airways had also been avoiding the
area where the flight went down.
"Although the detour adds to flight time and cost, we have
been making the detour for safety," said a spokeswoman for
Asiana, which has been diverting its once-weekly cargo flight
some 150 km (93 miles) below Ukrainian airspace since March 3.
The European Aviation Safety Agency did issue a safety
bulletin, accompanied by recommendations from both the U.N.'s
International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and
Brussels-based Eurocontrol, on April 3, advising that Crimean
airspace should be avoided. Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine
But those directives did not apply to the airspace over
Ukraine being traversed by Flight MH17 when it was brought down.
It was not immediately possible to verify which airlines had
adopted which routes.
Flight paths and altitude vary according to factors such as
weather, the amount of traffic on busy corridors and flight
restrictions. Flying higher helps burn less fuel, but pilots do
not always get to the altitude requested when airways are busy.
NO UNDUE RISK
Malaysian Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai said on Friday
the national airline took no undue risk in flying over Ukraine,
a route he stressed was approved by the ICAO and widely used by
"We've flown this route for many years, it's safe and that's
the reason why we are taking this route," Liow told a news
conference where reporters repeatedly questioned why the airline
chose to fly over a conflict zone.
The ICAO denied it had closed the route following the crash,
saying it had no power to do so.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) said
airlines depended on governments and air traffic control
authorities to advise which air space was available for flight,
and that safety was carriers' "top priority".
German authorities warned the country's 144 aviation
companies against flying over eastern Ukraine.
Geoff Dell, an accident investigation and safety specialist
at CQUniversity in Australia, said airlines had their own
intelligence operations which should be making decisions in such
"It's blatantly obvious they shouldn't have been anywhere
near it," Dell, who was working as a senior safety manager for
Qantas during the first Gulf War, said of Flight MH17.
"Any sort of unrest breaks out, civil wars or such, you
change your flight path so that you don't have to go anywhere
near it. Of course it comes at a cost, because you have to fly
SUSPECTED MISSILE ATTACK
Diverting planes is expensive for airlines, requiring more
fuel and more time in the air and making some reluctant to do so
without clear directives.
Flight MH17, en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, was
flying at around 33,000 feet over eastern Ukraine when it was
The United States said the plane was probably felled by a
ground-launched missile strike, while Australian Prime Minister
Tony Abbott said on Friday that Russian-backed rebels were
Immediately after the incident, several airlines announced
that they were re-routing flights to avoid Ukrainian airspace,
including Russian carrier Transaero.
As well as criticising some airlines, Dell and other experts
said the onus was also on civil aviation regulators to provide
clearer directives on avoiding conflict areas.
"The safety authorities themselves have much to answer for,"
said Chris Yates, of London-based aviation consulting firm Yates
Ukrainian authorities had closed the flight path from the
ground to around 32,000 feet, according to Eurocontrol, the
agency responsible for coordinating European airspace. Flight
MH17 was flying 1,000 feet above that.
After the crash, the International Air Transport Association
(IATA) said that "based on information currently available it is
believed that the airspace that the aircraft was traversing was
not subject to restrictions".
Some conflict areas pose more of a threat than others.
In Ukraine, Soviet-era military hardware is common, and Kiev
has accused pro-Moscow militants, aided by Russian military
intelligence officers, of firing a long-range, Soviet-era SA-11
ground-to-air missile at the Malaysia Airlines plane.
On Monday, a Ukrainian Antonov AN-26 transport plane was
downed in a rocket attack which Kiev said may have come from
(Additional Reporting by Lincoln Feast and Swati Pandey in
SYDNEY, Siva Govindasamy in KUALA LUMPUR, Tim Hepher in PARIS,
Amy Sawitta Lefevre in BANGKOK, Joyce Lee in SEOUL, Victoria
Bryan in BERLIN and Aradhana Aravindan in SINGAPORE; Editing by