x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Head of Emirates calls for airline to meet after Malaysia flight shot down

Tim Clark, president of Dubai’s Emirates, the world’s largest international airline by number of passengers, said that domestic regulators worldwide may decide to play a bigger role in giving their planes guidance on where it is safe to fly.

DUBAI // The head of Emirates airline has called for new rules to help carriers deal with regional conflict, after Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was shot down over Ukraine last week.

And on Monday Etihad Airways said it had re-routed its flights away from Ukrainian airspace.

Tim Clark, president of Emirates, the world’s largest international airline by passenger numbers, said that domestic regulators worldwide might play a bigger role in advising on safe routes.

“The international airline community needs to respond as an entity, saying this is absolutely not acceptable and outrageous, and that it won’t tolerate being targeted in internecine regional conflicts that have nothing to do with airlines,” Mr Clark said.

He urged the International Air Transport Association (Iata) to call a conference to address necessary changes as the industry responds to regional instability.

But Iata, which represents about 200 international airlines, said it relied on government and air-traffic agencies to advise on which airspace was available.

Mr Clark said Iata and the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organisation (Icao) could take the lead.

“If you go east to west or vice versa between Europe and Asia, you are likely to run into areas of conflict,” he said. “We have traditionally been able to manage this.

“Tripoli and Kabul were attacked, Karachi was attacked, and we have protocols, contingencies and procedures to deal with this. That was up until three days ago.

“Now I think there will have to be new protocols and it will be up to Icao and Iata and the aviation community to sort out what the protocols have to be.”

That call was supported by Emirates rival, Lufthansa, Europe’s largest airline by revenue, which joined the Dubai-based airline in calling for an airline summit to discuss the industry’s response to the unprecedented MH17 disaster.

“We always put the safety and security of our customers and our crews first at the Lufthansa Group and so, needless to say, yes, we strongly support such a summit,” said a Lufthansa spokesman.

Data from the flight-tracking website Flightradar 24 showed Lufthansa was among the airlines to have flown most frequently over the Donetsk region, where some areas are controlled by pro-Russian separatists, in the week leading up to the downing of MH17.

Lufthansa, which defended its decision to fly over the area, said the disaster was of a new magnitude. “Never before has a commercial aircraft been taken down by surface-to-air missiles at cruising altitude on one of the world’s busiest air ways,” the spokesman said.

Mr Clark said the industry had to think harder about the way it dealt with regional conflicts.

“Yes, the industry was aware there was shooting at a low level and assumed these were low-grade surface-to-air weapons,” he said.

“This was wrong, as we now know. Nobody in their wildest dreams thought anybody could have done [such a] calculating act of mass murder.”

Etihad on Monday told its customers through Twitter that it had changed its flight paths.

“We would like to advise guests that we have re-routed all of our flight paths to avoid all Ukrainian airspace,” it said. “The safety of our guests and staff is of paramount importance, and we will continue to monitor the security situation closely.”

In response to calls for a summit, Iata said its priorities were to reunite families with the bodies of the victims, and to ensure a successful investigation into the incident.

But it said it was gathering advice and facts from experts, and that the tragedy must not be repeated.

“Once we are clear on the facts and we have expert analysis to guide us, the engagement will move to a higher level of global dialogue,” said a spokesman for the Geneva-based group.

Joerg Handwerg, from the German pilots’ association VC Cockpit, said it was crucial that industry bodies agreed on the action to take a unified response.

“As soon as the first airline starts to fly using the old routes, that increases economic pressure on other airlines to follow suit,” he said.

Taking longer routes means consuming more jet fuel, which costs airlines more money.