* GRAPHIC-Flights around Donetsk
BERLIN, July 21 (Reuters) - Lufthansa, Europe’s largest airline by revenue, joined rival Emirates in calling for an airline summit to discuss the industry’s response to the downing of an airliner over Ukraine, saying international security protocols should be reviewed.
Since Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was shot down last week, questions have been raised as to why passenger planes were flying over a region hit by fighting.
Tim Clark, head of Dubai’s Emirates Airline, on Sunday said the International Air Transport Association (IATA) could call an international conference to see what changes need to made in the way the industry tackles regional instability.
“We always put the safety and security of our customers and our crews first at the Lufthansa Group and so - needless to say - yes, we strongly support such a summit,” a Lufthansa spokesman told Reuters on Monday.
The spokesman said airlines, industry organisations and government authorities would have to jointly review how they approach international security.
Data collected from flight tracking website Flight Radar shows Lufthansa was among the airlines to have flown most frequently over the Donetsk region, where some parts are controlled by pro-Russian separatists, in the week leading up to the downing of MH17.
Lufthansa, which has defended its decision to fly over the area, said the disaster was of an entirely new magnitude. “Never before has a commercial aircraft been taken down by surface-to-air missiles at cruising altitude on one of the world’s busiest airways,” the spokesman said.
In response to the calls for a summit, IATA, which represents around 200 airlines, said its priorities were to first reunite the bodies of the victims with their families in a humane way and to ensure a successful investigation into the incident.
But it said it was gathering advice and facts from experts and that the tragedy must not be repeated.
“Once we are clear on the facts and we have expert analysis to guide us, the engagement will move to a higher level of global dialogue,” a spokesman for the Geneva-based group said.
Joerg Handwerg, from German pilots’ association VC Cockpit said it was crucial that industry bodies agreed on the action to take and airlines stuck to a unified response.
“As soon as the first airline starts to fly using the old routes, that increases economic pressure on other airlines to follow suit,” he told Reuters. Taking longer routes means consuming more jet fuel, which costs airlines more money. (Reporting by Victoria Bryan, Frank Siebelt and Tim Hepher; Editing by Mark Potter)