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MH17: Why Malaysia Airlines must be confident about Syria safety

Optimum and actual Malaysia 4 A380 routes yesterday:Flightradar24 capture

This isn’t new, as a practice, but Flightradar24 shows the extent of Malaysia Airlines’ confidence in the aviation friendly nature of the Syrian conflict.

The screen capture at the top of the page is an over view of yesterday’s flight to London from Kuala Lumpur by MH4, an Airbus A380.

It is useful in that it shows the optimum route (red dashes) that passes over Ukraine, and the actual route followed by MH4 over among other countries Iraq and Syria.

A close up of the ‘playback’ function while the A380 is over Syria at 40,000 feet is shown below. In general A380s cruise at higher altitudes, and reach them sooner, than twin engined designs making similar flights in terms of load/airframe and duration.  Not that this matters to a modern heavy surface-to-air missile attack.

Flightradar24 detail of MH4 over Syria yesterday

The extensive use of Syrian and Iraqi airspace by many carriers, including those that were in some cases avoiding Ukraine corridors even before the MH 17 atrocity, has caused a great deal of concern.

The rationale given for Iraq and Syria is claimed to be intelligence saying there is no situation in either where such missiles were in the hands of the extremists or insurgents, and that air power superiority in each is exercised by the soverign power, while Ukraine had lost effective full military control of its skies over rebel strongholds.

To summarise and borrow from comments made by Emirates president and CEO Sir Tim Clark, two days ago and again yesterday ‘all bets are off’.

In other words, everything has to be looked at again.

The pressure on all carriers to reconsider the integrity of ICAO endorsements of air space as safe ought to be overwhelming, but it isn’t something most airlines, other than Emirates, are prepared to discuss with such candour.

The time for the basis for safety evaluations of flights over disputed territory to be examined in an independent inquiry, perhaps in the one being sought by Australia for MH17, has clearly arrived.

The underlying danger from this time on is that MH17 has set an example for terrorists to acquire and use such weapons to ‘make a statement’.

Thanks to Crikey colleague Bernard Keane for this tip while PT has been off air.

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  • 1
    Dan Dair
    Posted July 21, 2014 at 6:47 pm | Permalink

    A very valid point which I’m surprised had taken this long to surface as a lead-story.! (not just here, but anywhere.!)

    With respect Ben,
    Can’t you ‘pick-on’ another airline who is being equally lax in overflying these two conflict-zone nations.
    It’s hardly as if MH is the only one, is it.?

    Perhaps you’d be able to take the time to list for us, all the airlines with flights transiting the airspaces of Iraq & Syria.?

  • 2
    Ben Sandilands
    Posted July 21, 2014 at 7:04 pm | Permalink

    Dan,

    Did you read the full story? The next one will specifically ask what part of a severe warning about Ukraine airspace the airlines using it didn’t read.

    Malaysia Airlines lost 298 lives because of its simplistic and inadequate attitude. Why should we cut them any slack, especially after months of constantly amending or changing the official narrative on MH370?

    Some journalists don’t like being lied to. We don’t forgive easily.

  • 3
    J Chong
    Posted July 21, 2014 at 8:58 pm | Permalink

    To fly from Kuala Lumpur to Europe a Malaysian pilot (I was told: I have several friends who are pilots) can choose from the following route:

    Route A – overflying Iran (who is pretty prickly with flight approvals, many times they will use their power to deny overflight rights even to countries which could be considered to be an ally like Malaysia).
    Route B – overflying Ukraine (closed for Business)
    Route C – overflying Iraq (especially the area near Mosul, hardly the beacon of stability)
    Route D – overflying Syria (again, a hotbed)

    So what would Malaysia Airlines need to do in this case, keep their A380s in the hangar rotting away?

    PS: QF1 routes takes it above Mosul, Iraq from Dubai on their way to London. Where is your wrath against Qantas? Biased much?

  • 4
    Ben Sandilands
    Posted July 21, 2014 at 9:12 pm | Permalink

    J Chong,

    Good question, which I tried to answer earlier today re the different intelligence that has been cirulated re Iraq, versus that available to airlines re Ukraine.

    You might be interested in the post that followed this one.

  • 5
    DXBMICK
    Posted July 21, 2014 at 10:46 pm | Permalink

    Even the ME carriers don’t overfly Syria.
    The common airway, that looks like what MAS used, is through KSA and north through Jordan to Damascas airspace, then on to a mix of Larnaka and Turkey airspace (they don’t talk to or recognise each other).
    Whilst the ME carriers use the Sinai part of Egypt to get through to southern Europe or north Africa.
    For most of Europe they use Iraq.
    Not sure what is worse. Iraq, Iran, Syria, Sinai, Lebanon?

  • 6
    F S
    Posted July 22, 2014 at 12:05 am | Permalink

    From South east Asia or Australia to the UK,the “traditional” routes or shortest great circle routes tend to have to fly over at least one of those countries. Or others like Pakistan. For the sake of the argument, we go slightly further out,we still fly over volatile countries like Egypt, Ethiopia, Afghanistan, or whatever.
    To fly over only the “peaceful” countries, we are going to have to spend more money and time on a long round about route – like fly to UK via the USA. which makes it almost impractical – and that still does not guarantee you will arrive safely due to so many other factors.

  • 7
    patrick kilby
    Posted July 22, 2014 at 1:18 am | Permalink

    I was on the EK flght to Dusselldofr today and the track took them over Iraq but generally across the Eastern half away from the conflict and then on to Kurdistan then Turkey. Not many groups have SAM 11s to hit planes at 40k ft, and that is the risk issue (but Syria does)..

  • 8
    Tango
    Posted July 22, 2014 at 2:41 am | Permalink

    Terrorists are not really the issue in this case. At the very best they are Russian proxies if not Russian military personal directory involved (in the actual shoot, they are involved deeply in the situation and on the Ukrainian side of the border)

    State Sponsors (Russian in this case) enabling is the key for this one.

    What we don’t know is what happens if say Israel bombs Syria and Syrians start lobbing missiles around. As we have seen, one accidentally and the other with no tie into a network (MH17) the missiles can go well past a target (thrown off) and acquire another one (Siberian 1812). there is no reason to think the Syrians would do any better.

    Israel may have better control but we have all seen that not work as intended (Vincennes).

    I have yet to see reports of the ISL and what they have seized missile wise in Iraq. I don’t think they have SAMS (shoulder probably) .

    The point is that it only takes an accidental launch or a deliberate on that goes off course and you can have repeat (did with 1812)

    It may be something to live with but you would certainly be wise to avoid the likely ones (Syria, Israel and Ukraine and update that as needed.

    The US has had more than one false launch though I do not believe ever guided, but that does not mean it cannot happen to anyone.

  • 9
    Martin Barry
    Posted July 23, 2014 at 4:51 am | Permalink

    @FS to be fair you don’t have to fly that way from Australia, you can hub through North-East Asia, but then you would be severely limiting your options with airlines, connections etc.etc.

    Just open a “great circle mapper” website and plug in combinations like SYD-ICN-LHR or SYD-TSA-LHR and they are not much further than via SIN and could be even shorter than via DXB. Of course none of these mapping services take into account the intricacies that make up modern flight-paths nor political realities that force CI to fly around China and going that northerly route does involve the irony of overflying Russia.

  • 10
    Martin Barry
    Posted July 23, 2014 at 5:20 am | Permalink

    Gah, I meant TPE and not TSA.

    Mapped routes: http://www.gcmap.com/mapui?P=syd-icn-lhr,syd-tpe-lhr,syd-bkk-lhr,syd-dxb-lhr,syd-sin-lhr

    Actual route for CI61 TPE-FRA (they don’t appear to fly direct to LHR?) http://www.flightradar24.com/data/flights/ci61/#3dcbe55

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