July 21, 2014

Why Did Malaysian Airlines Play Russian Roulette With MH17?

Waking up last Friday to news that a Malaysian Airlines flight had been shot down over East Ukraine, my initial response was that the news reporters were referring to flight MH370. 

Finally, I thought, they have found out what really happened to the plane and perhaps now the families can start to find some closure. 

Realising of course that the broadcasters were actually describing a new incident, another Malaysian Airlines disaster, this time flight MH17 carrying 298 people, I struggled to make sense of what I was hearing. 

In fact, it was only a few weeks ago when I'd commented to my family that there was probably no safer airline at the moment than Malaysian - the logic being that they would have tightened up their security and ticked all the necessary boxes after being involved in one of the worst airline disasters in civil aviation’s history. 

Plus, I told myself, lightening doesn’t strike the same person twice, at least not according to the law of averages, and that is the logic so many of us use to reassure ourselves in times of unexplainable tragedy. 

2014 has been an horrific year for civil aviation and the worst year for Malaysian Airlines compared with any other Airline in history. Over 520 people have lost their lives flying with the airline in less than six months, and the grief, anger and betrayal felt by the families over the handling of MH370 have undoubtedly hit the airline hard.  

And while it seems unlikely that those families will ever truly know what happened to their loved ones, the fate of the passengers onboard flight MH17 has tragically been confirmed. We have been told unequivocally that Pro Russian separatists shot the plane down with a ground to air missile system as it flew over East Ukraine. 

And according to recent reports, it seems likely that this was less an act of global terrorism, and more like some kind of bungled attempt by inexperienced rebel fighters who mistook the Boeing 777 for a Ukrainian fighter jet, arguably because they were not expecting commercial jets to be flying over a war zone.  

In an alleged voice recording intercepted by the Ukrainian Intelligence Agency, a conversation plays out between a Russian intelligence officer and a separatist commander claiming responsibility for the attack. 
"Regrading the plane shot down.... it's a civilian one". 

Then in an eerie recording between Cossack commander Nikolay Kozitsin and an unidentified militant, commander Kozitsin is heard to say,
"They shouldn't be fu**ing flying. There is a war going on."

Regardless of whether this was a tragic case of mistaken identity or a deliberate act of terrorism, there is no doubt that Russia must be held to account. This was a high tech Russian made missile launcher, fired by Russian trained separatists in an area where at least three other Ukrainian military aircrafts have recently been shot down. And now voice recognition software allegedly shows the separatists claiming responsibility. 

It also appears likely that the Russian government or the Russian military were responsible for arming the rebel fighters with the Buk missile system; the only system capable of such long-range warfare. However, just how this high tech weaponry fell into the hands of a rebel army is yet to be confirmed. 

And while we must continue to put pressure on Russia to allow a thorough, impartial investigation, we must also be careful not to lose sight of the fact that both the Civil Aviation Industry and Malaysian Airlines knew that there was a war going on in East Ukraine, and that an alternative flight path was available. 

The question as to why a commercial aircraft was permitted to fly anywhere near a contested air space is one that must be answered by the Civil Aviation Industry. 

As a result of this disaster, all flights have since been diverted, but those restrictions should have been implemented as soon as the first air strike began. Instead civil aviation merely issued a warning for airlines choosing to continue along this flight path to fly above 31,000 feet. 

And yet the doomed flight MH17 was cruising at a 'safe' altitude of 33,000 feet, just 2000 feet above the safe upper limit. I am not expert on matters of civil aviation or warfare, and I don't think anyone could have anticipated this event or predicted that long range missiles would be deployed, but it seems almost unlawful to allow air traffic anywhere over the vicinity of a war zone especially when planes have already knowingly been blown out of the sky. 

Every time I have flown anywhere with my children, I have put my complete and unequivocal trust in the airline. I assume that every check and cross-check has been thoroughly implemented and I expect that in the event of any potential danger or risk, I would be informed and the flight delayed, cancelled or diverted. 

Not all international airlines chose to continue flying over Eastern Ukraine, in fact Malaysian Airlines was one of only a handful of carriers to continue along the shorter flight path from Europe into Asia.  But why then, when they had just experienced the worst international disaster of their history, was Malaysian Airlines willing to take any risks at all

The answer is that the airline was taking the shorter route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur to save on the cost of fuel. It is no secret that Malaysian Airlines are in serious financial trouble, however any savings they may have accrued will be quickly swallowed up by more bad publicity which will presumably equate to less people choosing to fly with the carrier. 

And then there is the matter of financial compensation for the families of those who perished. It's plausible that they will be looking to Malaysian Airlines for someone to blame and there is certainly plenty of blame to go around. 

So who should carry the burden of financial compensation in this devastating tragedy? Russia? The Civil Aviation Industry? Malaysian Airlines? 

If there was a fault in the mechanics or an issue with the engine or anywhere else on the aircraft and the airline chose to fly anyway, then the fault would rest not with the manufacturer, but with the airline that knowingly put its passengers and crew at risk. 

Someone had a duty of care to inform those 289 people of the risks they were facing, and the truth is both civil aviation and Malaysian Airlines knew beforehand, what we are only learning now, that they were flying their passengers directly over a war zone.

don't doubt that neither the airline or the aviation industry could ever have anticipated this level of risk, but in my opinion, Malaysian Airlines should never have been given the choice to keep flying over that contested airspace. Yet the fact remains that they were given a choice, and they choose to fly anyway. Sadly that choice was not extended to their passengers

Every one of those 289 passengers believed that they were in safe hands when they boarded MH17 at the Amsterdam airport on that fateful day. Not one of those men, women or children were informed that they were going to fly over a war zone and I believe Malaysian Airlines had a duty of care to do so.  

I do not proclaim to speak for the deceased, but I do know that if I had been made aware of the situation, and if I knew that other airlines were taking precautions by means of an extended detour, I would never have boarded that flight.  

The truth is, those passengers were not forewarned and they were never given a choice, and instead somebody decided to save a few bucks by playing Russian roulette with their lives. 

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