Flight #MH17 – Who allowed this to happen?

There are ongoing investigation into the crash of Flight MH17 by JIT and DSB which might or might not identify who is responsible for the attack on the commercial airliner in 17 July 2014. But there is another question to be answered which might help saving lives in the future:

Who allowed this to happen?

A friend does trainings coachings on the topic of Health and Safety for companies and his booklet provides a practical checklist for incidents every manager should ask himself whenever an incident occurred.. Two questions from this checklist keep circling my mind in relation to the crash of Flight MH17:

What have you done to prevent this?

What will you do to prevent this from happening again?

Looking at the days before the attack on Flight MH17 and at the current situation in various war-zones and unstable regions around the world, the answer to both questions appears to be “ABSOLUTELY NOTHING!

Flight MH17 with various other commercial airliners as the released radar images show, war flying over a war-zone in which several airplanes have been shot down in the days and weeks prior to the lethal attack on MH17. Despite these incidents, the airspace over embattled South-East Ukraine was declared safe above certain flight levels which was again increased only a few days before the attack. By raising the approved flightlevel for the corridor over Donetsk airspace, the Ukrainian authorities (State Aviation Administration (SAA) at least admit being aware of safety issues over this area. Nevertheless, the airspace remains opened for commercial airlines. Why?

There is a very simple but sobering answer which might answer this question and after talking to several experts, I have to assume that it is the answer. Ukraine, like all other countries, receives a fee for each airplane that crosses its territory and uses its ATC services. In case SAA would have decided to close the airspace over Donetsk, the corridor towards Rostov which was used primarily for traffic towards and from Asia, these airlines would have most likely have chosen to use the South Black Sea corridor which is approached from other countries than Ukraine. This means that Ukraine would not have received fees over these flights.

To put this in perspective, the now no longer used Northern Black Sea corridor passes over Crimean airspace and Simferopol ATC. That corridor was closed early 2014 under authority of SAA, FAA and ICAO over “security concerns” and disagreement over the status of Simferopol ATC. And even though Ukraine repeatedly and extensively reported about its airforce being attack over Donbass and its planes shot down at increasing rates and flight levels, it was not decided to close the corridor over Donetsk until it was too late!

Looking at the regulations of ICAO, the airspace safety status is at first a local responsibility but can be overruled by the ICAO and its governing body. This did not happen although all signals were there and available to do so. National Aviation Safety Boards have the option, and even the obligation, to evaluate the safety situation for its airlines and when needed have the obligation to overrule the status as declared by local authorities. Also this didn’t happen. And finally, the airline itself is obliged to make this evaluation of the airspace it uses and decide based on the best interest of the passengers it is transporting. The passengers who entrust their safety in the hands of the airlines and those organizations who are responsible for their safety.

Airline and governing bodies followed the advice by Ukrainian SAA and continued flying over a war zone in which active air defense systems were being deployed and used. Ukrainian SAA kept the corridor over this war zone open to collect fees. In doing so, the SAA, those who should have overruled the advice of the SAA and the airline, allowed the crash of Flight MH17 to happen. They are not responsible for the attack itself but they did nothing to prevent this, although this is their main responsibility! 298 innocent civilians paid the price for this fatal mistake which appears to be driven by financial priorities!

With all this, we would and should expect that the answer to the second question, what will be done to prevent this from happening again, would show a long list of measures, organizational changes at the saftey boards and administrations under the ICAO and fast areas of airspace over embattled countries and regions being closed until further notice. Logical steps to prevent such a traumatic incident from happening again. Unfortunately, none of this took place. The corridor over Donbass was closed but over other war zones, like northern Iraq, Afghanistan, Lybia, etc. commercial flights take place as if nothing has happened.

So it happened before and it could happen again!

Kind regards,

Pavel

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