The shooting down of a Malaysian Airlines plane with nearly 300 people on board over war-torn eastern Ukraine is likely to have profound consequences for the world’s airlines.
Airlines are already being more vigilant about avoiding trouble spots. That will make flights longer and more costly because of the need for extra fuel — an expense that will be passed on to passengers. They may be quicker to abandon routes near conflict areas.
In the aftermath of Thursday’s disaster, carriers around the globe rerouted flights to avoid Ukraine. Malaysia Airlines announced that it will no longer fly over any portion of the country, routing flights over Turkey instead.
Some airlines had been circumventing the country for weeks after warnings from aviation authorities, and experts questioned Malaysia’s decision to fly near the fighting.
“I find it pretty remarkable that a civil airline company — if this aircraft was on the flight plan — that they are flight-planning over an area like that,” said Robert Francis, a former vice chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board.
The airline noted Friday that other carriers flew the same path, even on the same day its plane was shot down. Malaysian Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lay insisted again Friday that the airline’s path from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was an internationally approved route.
Violence in Ukraine between government forces and pro-Russia rebels in the country’s east erupted after Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in March. Earlier this week, the rebels claimed responsibility for hitting a Ukrainian military jet with a portable surface-to-air missile; the pilot was able to land safely. And the government charged that a military transport plane was shot down by a missile fired from Russian territory.
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration had warned pilots in April not to fly over parts of Ukraine, and the U.N.’s International Civil Aviation Organization told governments to warn their airlines. Thursday’s crash, however, occurred outside those warning areas, prompting the FAA to expand its prohibition to eastern Ukraine.
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