Eurocontrol could have saved MH17

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A Norwegian aviation expert argued aviation authority Eurocontrol, which approves airline routes over Europe, could have prevented the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 over Eastern Ukraine a week ago. Einar Sørensen said it was too risky to depend on countries’ own assessments of their airspace security, and Eurocontrol should take over the task.

Avinor, the state agency running Norway's airports, hopes for more harmony in the tower and an end to cancellations and delays caused by a shortage of air traffic controllers. PHOTO: Avinor/Gaute Bruvik

Avinor is the state agency running Norway’s airports. It is up to each individual country to assess the security of its own airspace. Norwegian aviation expert Einar Sørensen argued that was too risky, given many countries relied on the revenue they gained from transit through their skies. He said central aviation bodies like Eurocontrol should take responsibility for opening and closing airspace. PHOTO: Avinor/Gaute Bruvik

Countries glean revenue when airlines fly through their airspace, Sørensen told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) on Thursday. “There are revenues in the millions in hard currency which, for an impoverished country like Ukraine unfortunately has become, has a great great importance to the state,” he said.

The partially-retired 73-year-old now lives in Toulouse, France, the heart of the European aviation industry. He has had a long career in aviation, including as a manager with air traffic control industry group ATM Norway and within the European Union’s aviation program.

He said Ukraine was aware of the danger over its airspace, as pro-Russian separatists had already shot down several Ukrainian military planes in the area where MH17 was hit. Nevertheless, it deemed its airspace was safe for planes flying more than 9,700 meters above sea level. MH17 was flying at 10,000 meters when it was shot down. Eurocontrol has since closed the route.

“The first shooting down of Ukrainian planes should have set some alarm bells ringing here and there,” Sørensen said. He argued it should also have prompted Eurocontrol to act, and immediately withdraw approvals for passenger planes on that route.

“It is each individual state’s responsibility to asses how safe the airspace is,” Eurocontrol wrote in an email to NRK. “We approve the flight routes from the reports we receive.”

‘It’s not our job’
The United Nation’s International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) took the same line when asked why a “no fly zone” had not been implemented over East Ukraine.

“ICAO does not declare airspace safe or unsafe, or assume any other direct operational exercises in connection to civil air services,” spokesman Anthony Philbin told news bureau Reuters. “It is always the responsibility of our sovereign member states to advise other countries about potential security risks.”

He said it was “not our job” to warn of danger posed by rocket attacks.

Calls for review
Independent international group Flight Safety Foundation has asked ICAO to convene a global summit to review the system warning airlines of potentially dangerous airspace. “If the states can not fulfill their responsibility to administer their own airspace, ICAO should play a leadership role to warn or ban airlines form flying through hostile airspace,” said the group’s president Jon Beatty.

Sørensen also argued that as a member of Eurocontrol, Norway should put pressure on European authorities to change the security culture within aviation. “Norway cannot do anything alone, but we can agitate so that civil aviation gets safe corridors between Europe and Asia, to avoid such cases as we have seen in East Ukraine,” he said.

newsinenglish.no/Emily Woodgate