The news: Planes have been avoiding eastern Ukraine like the plague since Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 was shot down by a surface-to-air missile over the region last week, killing 298 passengers and crew. But what's the next best route?
Reuters reports that the airline's new route for the Kuala Lumpur-London flight, MH4, is avoiding the chaotic conflict on the border with Russia by flying instead over the warzone in Syria.
Unsurprisingly, this is raising some eyebrows. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has "strongly discouraged" planes from flying over Syria, Iraq, Iran and other potentially dangerous neighborhoods in the interest of safety. But just how concerned should flyers be?
The background: Major international airlines that are not U.S.-based routinely direct flights over disputed territories and conflict zones to save millions in jet fuel and hours of flight time.
MH17 was, however, flying above the FAA-ordered level of 32,000 feet in eastern Ukraine when it was struck down. Based on this, it seems that MH17's route was probably just catastrophically unfortunate rather than particularly unsafe.
Even though nonstate actors in both Syria and Iraq are not believed to have the capability to easily shoot down high-flying passenger jets, such as what happened in eastern Ukraine, the FAA still considers flying over Syria pretty dangerous. IBT notes that most airlines are heeding the FAA's warning and are rigorously avoiding flying over Syria, even though the International Civil Aviation Organisation still approves routes over the region.
Image Credit: AP
The bottom line: Flying over conflict zones might not be a particularly safe, ethical or advisable practice, but a patchy international framework and cost concerns mean that such routes sometimes happen regardless. This is far from ideal and better international coordination is really needed to keep flights on safe and well-monitored routes. In general, if the FAA says pilots shouldn't fly somewhere, they shouldn't.