MALAYSIA AIRLINES FLIGHT 17 was shot down over the volatile region of Ukraine where government forces have been battling pro-Russian separatists.
Ukrainian officials have said the plane was hit by the separatists, raising the possibility commercial aircrafts flying through the area could be vulnerable to potential ground-to-air attacks.
Even more worrying is that the planned path that brought MH17 near the disputed region, known as airway L980, is one of the most popular and most congested air routes in the world.
L980 is a key link between major international hubs in Europe, such as London Heathrow, Amsterdam Schiphol, and Frankfurt, and Asian megacities, like Singapore, Mumbai, and Hong Kong. The airspace over Ukraine is traveled by virtually every commercial flight from Western Europe to south Asia.
Because of this, the crash could have a significant effect on commercial air travel with hundreds of flights expected to be affected by this incident.
For example, at just one hub, Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, which was the origination point of MH17, there are dozens of flights either en route or scheduled to take L980 in the next 24 hours.
East Ukraine airspace has been closed until further notice.
In April, the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) declared the troubled Crimean peninsula, which is south of the crash site, a virtual no-fly zone for US air carriers and pilots.
A similar no-fly order for European airlines was issued, also in April, by the European Organisation for the Safety of Air Navigation, or Eurocontrol.
Yesterday, an executive at the flight tracking website FlightAware said: “We’re seeing many airlines … transiting Ukrainian airspace, but all north or west of the FAA/Eurocontrol prohibited zone.
But according to a UK Civil Aviation Authority spokesman, “Eurocontrol has issued advice to airlines to plan routes that avoid the area” where the Malaysian jet crashed.
- Benjamin Zhang, additional reporting by AFP