Experts see holes in flight security rules
Questions about how and when planes are permitted to fly have been raised in the aftermath of the deadly crash of a Ukrainian airliner near Tehran last week that killed all 176 people on board.
Experts say the crash, which happened after the plane was hit by an Iranian surface-to-air missile, points to a glaring gap in rules around flight security, with countries sometimes failing to close their own airspace amid a lack of authority by global agencies.
Transport Canada said last week that Canadian carriers were complying with U.S.-led restrictions on commercial flights in Iraqi, Iranian and some Persian Gulf airspace amid heightened tensions between the U.S. and Iran affecting the region. But not all countries’ aviation agencies instructed their carriers to steer clear, and Iran failed to ban civilian travel even as its military was on high alert.
Countries often hesitate to shut down their airspace due to the economic and political turbulence it can create, says
Michael Bociurkiw, who was an observer for Ukraine’s investigation into the downing of a Malaysia Airlines flight in 2014.
“Closing your airspace is quite extreme. It scares people away. It scares away business investment, especially tourism,” Bociurkiw said.
“Sometimes these things can be politically sensitive and they draw too much attention.”
Other problems can result from leaving security alerts in state hands. During unrest in eastern Ukraine in 2014, the country raised its minimum safe altitude to 32,000 feet as a precautionary measure. Three days later, a missile shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, killing all 298 people on board.
States’ civil aviation bodies are responsible for shutting down their airspace and instructing domestic airlines to avoid foreign skies in the event of danger, such as military conflict or natural disasters.
However, the passenger planes that took off from Tehran’s airport shortly after an Iranian missile strike against two military bases in Iraq where U.S. forces are stationed had received no security warnings from Iran.
Aerospace consultant Ross Aimer is calling for a more active role by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), a Montreal-based United Nations agency, which he deems “slow to respond” and lacking in teeth.