Malaysian Airlines has been the subject of intense scrutiny and heavy criticism for its handling of the mysterious disappearance of Flight MH370.
Now, some aviation industry pundits are suggesting it is partly responsible for the missile attack on MH17 as well, which went down at approximately 12:15am Australian EST on Friday with 298 people on board, including 28 Australians.
Ben Sandilands, an experienced aviation reporter for Crikey, described the decision to fly over the Ukrainian war zone as a “terrible, ghastly and hideous failure of duty of care on the part of Malaysia Airlines”.
The International Civil Aviation Organization had, until Friday’s tragedy, allowed commercial aircraft to fly over the contested eastern part of the troubled nation, but did issue a guidance against flying below 32,000 feet.
According to the European flight safety body Eurocontrol, the doomed plane was flying at an altitude of 33,000 feet when it disappeared from radar screens.
Professor Geoff Dell, an air safety and accident investigator with 35 years’ experience, said he was “astonished” and “flabbergasted” that the jetliner chose to fly in the area at all.
“You just don’t put your primary asset, your passengers, your crew in harm’s way,” Professor Dell told Sky News on Friday afternoon, describing it as a “fairly substantial blunder”.
Many of its competitors did not make the same so-called mistake.
Korean Air re-routed its flights 250 kilometres south of Ukraine from March 3 “due to the political unrest in the region”, an official for the carrier told AAP.
Taiwan’s China Airlines diverted its flights from April 3.
Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific said it had not been using Ukrainian airspace “for quite some time”.
Qantas has not flown its London to Dubai service over Ukraine for several months, although this seems to be a commercial decision unrelated to the conflict.
Quizzed as to why Malaysia Airlines had not taken similar precautions, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said international air authorities had deemed the flight path secure.
“The aircraft’s flight route was declared safe by the International Civil Aviation Organization. And (the) International Air Transportation Association has stated that the airspace the aircraft was traversing was not subject to restrictions,” he said at a press conference.
According to Eurocontrol, the Ukrainian authorities has now declared the east of the country a no-fly zone.
Oliver Lamb, an aviation expert at Pacific Aviation Consulting, is wary of pointing the finger of blame.
“My firm view on this is that the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) was working on the firm basis of previous experience and what they knew, which is reasonable, and Malaysia Airlines was relying on that advice.
“At this stage, there is no evidence to suggest that either ICAO or Malaysia Airlines is to blame,” Mr Lamb told The New Daily.
“There is certainly somebody at fault – whoever fired the missile.”
Aviation expert Neil Hansford, who has more than 20 years’ experience in the industry, said Malaysian Airlines was simply “unlucky”, given that he estimates up to 200 or 300 aircraft would have been flying in Ukrainian airspace at the time.
“That’s the main corridor from south east Asia to northern Europe. So every aircraft going to Brussels, Amsterdam, the UK and possibly Denmark and places like that would come down over that corridor,” Mr Hansford said.
If anyone is to blame, it is the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), which chose to issue guidance against flying below 32,000 feet in the area instead of imposing a complete no-fly zone, Mr Hansford said.
“No, I’d shoot it back to ICAO,” he said. “They must have known something [about the missiles].”
This is evident, he said, because ICAO has not issued any warnings over Iraq, Iran, or Afghanistan, despite these also being notorious conflict zones.