International Air Transport Association calls for airspace risk review

Governments should take the lead in reviewing how risk assessments for airspace are made, the head of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) has said, sidestepping calls for a conference of global airlines on the matter. The issue of flying over conflict zones is in focus after Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was shot down over rebel-held territory in Eastern Ukraine on July 17.

The head of Emirates, one of the world’s largest airlines, called for an international meeting of airlines to discuss the industry’s response to the downing and suggested IATA could call a conference. But Geneva-based IATA, which represents around 200 global airlines, said it was up to Governments and air traffic control authorities to provide information about routes and restrictions.

"No effort should be spared in ensuring that this outrage is not repeated," IATA Director General Tony Tyler said in a statement. "Governments will need to take the lead in reviewing how airspace risk assessments are made," he said, adding that the industry would support governments through the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the aviation safety arm of the United Nations.

The European Cockpit Association, which represents 38,000 European pilots from 37 European states, said it also believed the responsibility lay with Governments. "Any threat or risk assessment should be done by Governments because they are the ones with the access to information from security sources," ECA President Nico Voorbach told Reuters.

Germany’s Lufthansa said it would support an airlines conference and that airlines, industry organisations and Government authorities would have to jointly review how they approach international security.

IATA has reiterated that MH17 was using a route that was open.

"Malaysia Airlines was a clearly identified commercial jet," Tyler said. "And it was shot down – in complete violation of international laws, standards and conventions – while broadcasting its identity and presence on an open and busy air corridor at an altitude that was deemed to be safe."

While airlines regularly fly over conflict zones such as Iraq and Afghanistan and the skies over Ukraine are a major route for those flying between Europe and Asia, the downing has shocked the industry and prompted calls for a rethink on assessing the threats to planes flying thousands of metres above fighting on the ground. Malaysia Airlines has rerouted a flight over Syria after its usual path over Ukraine was closed, reflecting the challenges airlines face in finding conflict-free routes between Asia and Europe.

"This was a terrible crime. But flying remains safe. And everyone involved in global air transport is fully dedicated to making it even safer," Tyler added.