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ATW Editor's Blog

Governments failed those on board MH17

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The Dutch Safety Board report today on the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 is welcome in that it definitively states that the Boeing 777-200 was shot down by a Russian-built surface-to-air missile.

A criminal investigation report next year will, hopefully, decide who is responsible for that act, which killed all 298 passengers and crew on board. All were completely innocent citizens doing what millions of ordinary people do every day - take a commercial airline flight to a destination for work, pleasure or family reasons. The report makes clear that they died because a BUK missile targeted the airliner, detonated and blasted those on board with shrapnel, instantly destroying the aircraft.

The DSB report was also correct to note there was “a blind spot in the risk assessment process” that resulted in MH17 ending up in harm’s way, above a war zone in Ukraine, on that fateful July day in 2014.

DSB chairman Tjibbe Joustra noted that there had been earlier shoot-downs of military aircraft in the area by weapon systems that could reach airliners’ cruising altitudes. In other words, there were red flags, but Ukrainian authorities did not close the endangered airspace.

So the report concludes that while no form of risk assessment can be perfect, the aviation sector must take more account of a changing world and that “the ball is now in the court of the states and the aviation sector” to make adjustments.

To which I would say, this ball is firmly in the court of states and intelligence agencies. That’s where the information sits about potential dangers to civilian lives, whether it’s from recognized government military forces, non-state agencies or terrorist organizations.

Airlines are not in the business of monitoring such activity, nor should they be. In today’s world, it makes sense for an airline to have a good risk assessment team, but good decisions can only come from good information.

Airlines do not want or need classified intelligence or the sources of that information. They just need timely and actionable information. Eighteen months on from MH17, such information is still too hard to access.

MH17’s flight plan from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was approved by Eurocontrol, and as they entered Ukraine airspace, the crew abided by Ukrainian air traffic control instructions to fly at 33,000ft. Other airliners were on similar routes that day.

Airlines are responsible for the safety of their operations, but governments are responsible for providing safe airspace to commercial airliners. That’s a fundamental tenet of the global air transport community. All those on board MH17 were needlessly killed by a failing of that tenet.

NOTE: The following link to a video made by the Dutch Safety Board on the investigation was sent to me. If you haven't seen it, take a look. It's very good and sets out the whole story in a clear, methodical way. Excellent work by the investigators. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iGm00TdqirY&feature=youtu.be

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