Flying Over A Conflict Zone, Ctd

Restricted Airspace

Jessica Schulberg and Josh Kovensky map the world’s restricted airspaces:

Several of the restrictions in the map above only apply to flights below a certain altitudeusually under 24,000 feet. This varies according to the situation on the ground. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, for example, where rebels possess less advanced rocket technology, the minimum operating altitude is 15,000 feet, whereas planes flying over ISIS-controlled regions of Iraq must remain above 20,000 feet.

But less than two weeks ago, the Ukrainian government declared it unsafe to fly over eastern Ukraine at an altitude below 32,000 feet, because of the presence of anti-aircraft weapons. MH17 was at a cruising altitude of 33,000 feet when it was shot down.

Fallows defends Malaysia Airlines decision to fly over Eastern Ukraine:

Short version: Airlines rely on regulators and national and international bodies to tell them about airspace they should avoid. Absent such warnings, airspace is presumptively legal and safe for transit. MH17 was following the rules by staying out of no-fly and warning zones. A terrible crime and disaster occurred, but that is not Malaysia Air’s fault.

Shorter still: According to Spiegel (German version here), while some airlines, including Air France, had changed their routes to avoid Ukraine, most did not. Many other airlines took a path similar to the one on which MH17 was shot down, notably including Lufthansa. Here is Spiegel’s chart of how many planes had gone this way in the week before yesterday’s disaster;

But Rick McCullough, “a Captain experienced in international flight,” admits he “would have been uncomfortable flying in that region of conflict”:

Military aircraft had been shot down in the recent past, so at least one of the combatants obviously had that capability. Weather deviations might force my aircraft even further into the region of conflict. Flying a route that avoided the conflict zone would have required some additional fuel and time, but would have been the safer course of action in light of the warnings issued by the Ukrainian government and the FAA.

And Jon Lee Anderson worries that a similar event could happen in other parts of the world:

For decades, the Libyan despot Muammar Qaddafi fielded his own proxies in fights across Africa and beyond. The Venezuelan terrorist Ilich Ramírez Sánchez (a.k.a. Carlos the Jackal) was on his payroll at one point. Qaddafi’s agents planted explosives aboard a Pan Am jetliner that blew up over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988; a year later, in similar fashion, they blew up a French civilian passenger plane as it flew over Niger. When Qaddafi was deposed, in 2011, a motley group of “revolutionaries,” including some whom he had supported, swarmed into Libya and looted his vast armories. Among the weapons were large numbers of Russian-made heat-seeking anti-aircraft missiles. Peter Bouckaert, of Human Rights Watch, documented hundreds of them in unguarded caches, but, by the time weapons inspectors arrived, the missiles were gone. Where they are today, nobody knows. But Libya has become a hotbed of warring militia groups and jihadi extremists, and it seems likely that, sooner or later, the missiles will find a use.

Earlier Dish on MH17’s route here.