Airlines don't bring hundred+ million dollar airplanes and the highly-trained folks who operate them into countries without analysing the security status of the airport and the places where their flight crews will be housed. That's why the kidnapping of two pilots for Turkish in Beirut around this time last year was so startling. The transport van taking the entire flight crew was stopped and the pilots removed at gunpoint. Murat Akpinar and Murat Agca were held for two months after becoming unwitting players in the Syrian civil war. And if the industry needed a reminder that airlines aren't immune to seemingly unrelated conflicts, that was only the most recent of many similar events.
Airline security departments are 24/7 operations run by former soldiers, spies and law enforcement officers. They are paid to keep track of potential security threats in the countries into which they operate. They wouldn't rely solely on government security reports any more than they would depend entirely on protection from local police. So why, with weeks of escalating combat in the Ukraine, were so many carriers still flying through the area?
As early as March 3rd, Korean Air, itself the victim of a missile fired at a Boeing 747 in 1983 changed its routing to avoid Ukraine territory according to spokeswoman, Penny Pfaelzer, who cited "political unrest" as the motivating factor. British Airways abandoned the route as well, though the spokeswoman would not tell me when or why it made that decision. Air France failed to answer my questions but it appears to have opted out of flying on the route even while co-owned KLM did not, according to flightradar24.com.
So while Malaysia is self-evidently correct in its statements; the airspace was open and hundreds flights between Europe and Asia were using it every day, it is a weak reply to a valid question of responsibility.
|Photo of presumed launch of missile|
Safe and secure passage is just as much a part of route planning as fuel costs and overflight fees. Getting there without being shot down by the combat going on below the plane hasn't been "unbundled" from the ticket price yet.
Where Malaysia is absolutely correct is that only an extraordinary roll-of-the-dice seems to have made it the victim of the missile strike.
In a conversation on Friday, Philip Degare of World Air Ops in Toronto explained that the April closing of the Crimean and Black Sea airspace due to a air traffic control dispute had the effect of pushing more flights into the combat zone. That means hundreds of airliners could have been MH 17.
"There would have been a significant increase in traffic over the conflict zone because of closure of Simferopol even though the conflict zone didn’t exist when the Simferopol air space was closed," Degare told me. The first aircraft were targeted in the Russian Ukrainian hostilities in May when a helicopter was felled. "From then onwards it escalated," he said.
Regardless of what hell was playing out below, the airlines, civil aviation authorities and government agencies seem to have been lulled into believing that combatants did not possess weapons capable of reaching an airliner's cruise altitude.
In a stunning statement to Josh Margolin of ABC News, an American official said “We didn’t believe they had anything (weapons) that could reach that altitude. Had we known what we know now, that they had things that could reach up to 80,000 feet, the airspace would have been restricted.”
Why authorities didn't know that missiles with greater range were in the area is a bit of a mystery to me.
On Monday July 14th, a radar-guided SA-11 capable of reaching a target as high as 72,000 feet, hit a Ukrainian Antonov-26, according to The New York Times. Two days later on the 16th, a Ukrainian SU-25 was shot down in air-to-air combat. The Kiev Post reported it hours before MH 17 was felled. These developments make irrelevant, the selection of 33,000 feet and above as safe altitude.
|Photo tweeted by a passenger on MH 17 before boarding|
Did government agencies inform the airlines and civil aviation authorities? If not, why not? Did the airlines and aviation authorities know - either from their governments or from their own research - and disregard what was going on in the air above the Ukraine?
So yes, Malaysia appears to once again be the victim of the fates, once again exposed for complacency in how it goes about ensuring the security of its flights. This time, however, other airlines, aviation organizations and world governments have questions to answer because it appears they share Malaysia's catastrophic obliviousness.