MH17 Plane Crash: Why are commercial flights allowed to fly over conflict zones?


Malaysia Airline Flight MH17 passenger plane has crashed near the Russian border in Ukraine, making it the the second air disaster in just five months for the airline.

When Malaysia Airlines MH370 went missing in March of this year, the world looked on in disbelief. An international search for the aircraft began as hope centred around finding an explanation to the unexpected disaster. Five months on, and we still remain no clearer with as to what happened on that fatal day.

Whilst the investigation into MH370 and its 239 passengers continues, another tragedy has struck; Malaysia Airlines MH17 has crashed, killing all 298 passengers and crew members. Yet again the world will have to wait on an conclusive answer for as to what happened. However, extensive reports have already began to conclude why this catastrophe took place.

Firstly, it is important we acknowledge that the aircraft crashed whilst flying only 1,000 feet above a ‘no-fly’ zone, in an area where Ukrainian military forces had been engaging with pro-Russian  separatist rebels.

History has shown that whilst similar scenarios are rare, they have happened before. In 1983, for example, a Korean Air flight, travelling between New York to Seoul, was bought down by the USSR, killing all 269 passengers and crew. Russia reported that they had feared it was a US military surveillance plane. And in 1988, the US warship USS Vincennes shot down an Iran Air flight 655, using an surface-to-air missile, killing 290 passengers. US Navy officials later stated they had mistaken the aircraft for an Iranian F14 jet fighter.

Immediately after the crash, the Western world were split between whether this had been a Russian or Ukrainian shooting, with both sides shifting the blame. Ukrainian President, Petro Poroshenko immediately declared that this had been a Russian attack; ‘We are not calling it an accident or a disaster, but an act of terrorism.’

Their argument might not need to face any further investigation; The Ukrainian government has since released intercepted phone conversations between pro-Russian separatists. These conversations have yet to be verified, but if confirmed there will no be hiding what has happened here. The chilling recording, which is said to have been made within minutes of the crash, reveal the separatists admitting to the shooting -‘They shouldn’t be f*****g flying. There is a war going on.’

The first recording of the call is allegedly the voices of Igor Bezler, a ‘Russian military intelligence officer’ and ‘Vasili Geranin, a colonel in the Russian Federation armed forces.’  The second, is supposedly a conversation between Russian militants nicknamed ‘Major’ and ‘Greek’. The pressure from the West, will now continue to mount upon Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Reaction: The reaction to the incident has sparked outrage, with many asking why was the plane flying so close to a war zone? After the crash,  air operators around the world imposed a no fly-zone over Ukraine, but shouldn’t this have been the case in the first place?  To add even further frustration to the crisis, news has emerged that pilots were warned to avoid this area three months ago.

Passenger planes, such as MH17 are often unafraid to fly over such areas, in the belief that weapons used on the ground are unable to reach any aircraft flying at a 6 mile height. Aviation expert, Chris Yates, has said: “It beggars belief that a large passenger aircraft could be brought down in this way. There have to be questions asked of the European safety authorities and why they didn’t route aircraft further north.”

In addition to this, aviation experts have also suggested that operators will fly across these zones because they are often the quickest, and essentially cheapest option. Norman Shanks, a professor of aviation security has said;  “Malaysia Airlines, like a number of other carriers, have been continuing to use it because it is a shorter route, which means less fuel and therefore less money. I expect the area will be declared a no fly-zone and aircraft will have no choice but to take a different, longer route.”

Perhaps an area of reflection should not only look upon who is to blame, but also why passenger planes are allowed to fly over routes which takes them so close to danger.

(Picture: Stratman)