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Flight MH17 and no-fly zones

Flight MH17 and no-fly zones
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Travellers crossing international borders by plane do not, generally, consider whether they might fly over dangerous areas.

The destruction of Malaysia Airlines MH17, however, has revealed that many passengers have been running a fatal risk.

Before last Thursday, Ukrainian air space had some 350 civilian planes passing through it every day; almost half could be international flights.

When MH17 came down, it followed moves by neighbouring Russia to limit civilian use of air space on that side of the border.

Questioned along the lines ‘did the Russians take more precautions?’, a European air traffic control official on Friday discussed the restrictions in place before those hundreds of people were killed.

Brian Flynn, Eurocontrol Network Manager, said: “The airspace restrictions closing the airspace in eastern Ukraine from ground to 32,000 feet which were put in force on Monday 14 of July, there was some hours later there was a similar notification published by the Russians’ authority that was to the airspace to the east of that, but that also applied from ground to 32,000 feet so there is no incompatibility between the two pieces of information that were published.”

After MH17 was shot down, the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) expanded existing bans on flights.

For American aircraft, as of Thursday, the FAA has issued flight prohibitions in Eastern Ukraine, the Crimea region, Libya, Iraq and North Korea.

The FAA issued advisories which are neither binding nor regulatory yet are strongly suggestive of warnings, such as for Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan.

Decisions by countries and international organisations on air space to designate as ‘no-fly zones’ are usually taken in a military context, for instance over Iraq between 1991 and 1993, to prevent attacks against the Kurds, over Bosnia & Herzegovina between 1993 and 1995 to neutralise Serbian air power, and Libya, in 2011, to prevent attacks on civilian targets.

Many analysts believe the MH17 killings could have been avoided if there had been an absolute ban on civilian flights over eastern Ukraine.

The sky there has been clear since the day after the attack.

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