Following the unbelievable shoot down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over the Ukraine, the United Nations’ International Civil Aviation Organization (“ICAO”) has established an aviation task force. The group includes members of the aviation industry and will have its first meeting this week in Montreal. One of the items on its agenda is whether authorities should be compelled to share safety intelligence.
The obvious impetus for creating the task force is the fact that nearly 300 people perished on July 17 when a missile shot down a Boeing 777 at altitude while en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur. Although is the blame is still disputed, most believe Pro-Russian separatists shot down the civilian aircraft using missiles supplied by Russia.
One of the immediate questions that followed the tragedy was why Malaysia Airlines was still flying the route, given the conflict on the ground below. They were not the only airline that was. It has been reported that as many as 20 carriers were still using the route as of July 17.
The Federal Aviation Administration, however, had issued a Special Federal Aviation Regulation in May 2014, prohibiting most civil aircraft from operating in the region. Many foreign airlines had altered their routes along with the U.S. carriers. It is the airlines, however, that determine the flight route, and cost is obviously a factor. The ICAO calculated that Malaysia Airlines saved $28,000 per flight by flying over the Ukraine, rather than around it.
Since the crash, both airlines and aviation groups have pushed for more access to consistent, reliable intelligence information in order to assess more accurately the risk involved in flying over conflict zones. The task force’s recommendations are expected within eight weeks. These recommendations, however, are not binding. Each member state makes its own decisions. The hope is that those decisions will be informed ones.