KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 13 – Airlines would have avoided flying over Ukraine long before Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 was shot down if information about missiles in the area had been passed on, the boss of Emirates has suggested in a BBC report. Sir Tim Clark told the BBC there had been evidence of weapons for weeks but those in the know did not share the information with most of the carriers flying across the country. “There was evidence that these missiles had been on site, in situ for a number of weeks beforehand.
“Emirates did not know of that fact, and I don’t think many others did. Had we known that, we would probably have reacted in a manner that would have seen a complete avoidance of Ukrainian airspace, probably as an industry. “We have a concern that information was known by certain stakeholders… and should have been passed… at least to the industry, to the organisations that regulate the industry. “We understand now that certain carriers were aware of that and had already taken avoidance action,” Clark told the BBC. He added that some carriers appeared to have the information because they were avoiding the area, but they didn’t share the information.
It is widely believed that a missile downed Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur on July 17, killing all 298 people on board. Planes had been cleared to fly in the area as long as they stayed above a certain height, and a report earlier this week highlighted the fact that three other large passenger jets were in the same area at roughly the same time as the Malaysian flight. The BBC report said British Airways was among several airlines that had been avoiding Ukraine for weeks. But in a recent BBC interview, the overall boss of the company, Willie Walsh, said that decision was based on information that was publicly available at the time.
Clark said there was a need for an information “clearing house” to be set up, that can warn all airlines, quickly, if there are any new threats in an area. At the moment it’s down to each individual airline to decide whether to travel over a war zone, based on information from local air traffic control and from their own government. And carriers aren’t obliged to pass on the information to each other. Clark’s remarks echoed the views expressed by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak yesterday who had said that the tragedy of Flight MH17 had exposed an “uncomfortable truth”, that there are no clear standards to determine whether a flight path is safe.
In a Bernama report, the prime minister had pointed out that the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) – the United Nations global aviation body – issued advice on areas to avoid, but did not declare flight paths unsafe. Najib had said as airlines revealed their vastly different approaches to conflict zones, passengers were left wondering who ensured the safety of the skies. In an article published in the Financial Times, he had said that in the weeks after the MH17 tragedy, it became clear that carriers differed vastly over conflict zones.
He had said that this happened because airlines did not share their risk assessments, and this must change. In the article entitled, “Our skies will not be safe until nations share their knowledge”, the prime minister had said that after MH17, the international community must choose collective security over national interest. They should commit to sharing flight risk information – among airlines, aviation bodies and nations. “In so doing, we can honour those who lost their lives by making our skies safer for all,” the prime minister had said.