A determination of the cause of crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 has been quick. It is now clear that the aircraft was hit by a surface-to-air missile, which caused the deaths of 298 innocent people. It also seems relatively clear that the missile was fired by Russian separatists, but exactly who and the extent to which they had Russian assistance is unknown.
This also raises the question of why Malaysia Airlines was flying over a known war zone. The United States had clearly recognized the potential danger, and the FAA had issued a special regulation in May 2014 that, among other things, prohibited U.S. carriers from flying over the area. That zone has been expanded in the wake of this tragedy. The FAA was not the only one to recognize the risk, and many non-U.S. airlines had been flying around the region, rather that over it, including Qantas and Korean Air.
Many, however, had continued to fly over it. British Airways, KLM, Air France and Lufthansa have all reportedly used the route in recent days. It is, after all, the most direct and, therefore, the most economical route. Plus, the altitude at which these commercial airlines fly provided some (perhaps false) sense of security since they were out of the reach of many weapons, such as shoulder fired missiles.
However, two other aircraft, a Ukrainian fighter jet and a military transport plane, were both shot down earlier this week. Whether the Russian separatists alleged to have shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 mistook it for a military aircraft remains a question. Nonetheless, continued flights over such an unstable regions was clearly a bad choice.